Posts Tagged ‘Space Opera’

Bookish Brits: These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner
these broken starsIt’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.
Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.
Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?
Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.

Posted by Caroline

Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date:December 2013
Format: eARC
Pages: 384
Genre: Science Fiction
Age:Young Adult
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Netgalley
Challenge: Netgalley November
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Pandora’s Star

Peter F Hamilton

It is AD 2380 and humanity has colonized over six hundred planets, all interlinked by wormholes. With Earth at its centre, the Intersolar Commonwealth has grown into a quiet, wealthy society, where rejuvenation allows its citizens to live for centuries.
When astronomer Dudley Bose observes a star over a thousand light years away vanish, imprisoned inside a vast force field of immense size, the Commonwealth is anxious to discover what actually happened. As conventional wormholes can’t reach that far, they must build the first faster-than-light starship. Captained by Wilson Kime, an ex-NASA astronaut a little too eager to relive his glory day the Second Chance sets off on its historic voyage of discovery.
But someone or something out there must have had a very good reason for sealing off an entire star system. And if the Second Chance does manage to find a way in, what might then be let out?

Pandora’s Star is the first of five (at the time of writing) large novels set in Hamilton’s Commonwealth universe. The first two of which are known collectively as the Commonwealth Saga, the other three (set centuries later) known as The Void Trilogy.

The book begins with the spectacular public unveiling of Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Isaacs’ experimental wormhole technology when they play a prank on the first manned mission to Mars in 2050, almost instantly making NASA and its space program redundant.

Fast-forward three centuries, and humanity lives in a peaceful society spread over hundreds of worlds – each one having at least one wormhole station through which you can take trains between worlds, or in some cases simply walk through. As there is no shortage of resources or new planets to colonise, there have been no wars for generations.

People are effectively immortal as the technology exists to return their bodies to their 20s as they grow old. Most people also have implants recording their entire mind, so that they are killed (the book calls this “bodyloss”) in an accident or murdered, they can be “relifed” into a new cloned body in a matter of months, with all their memories and personality intact.

The religious consequences of this “relife” process are glossed over, though Hamilton’s earlier Confederation trilogy examined eternal human souls in great depth, so perhaps it is for the best that this was not repeated here.

Instead, the practical considerations are well thought through. Can someone legally commit murder if the victim can be brought back to life? How do you punish someone who is effectively immortal? One of the characters, Paula Myo is an investigator in such a case and with this we really get a sense of how a society could work with such possibilities, even though all of this is unrelated to the main plot of the book.

In fact, much of the book is spent in careful world building, making this future civilisation feel very real. There are a lot of story threads following an ensemble cast of dozens, making it sometimes a little difficult to keep up with what is going on, though there is a handy list of the main characters at the front of the book to remind you.

As to the main story, it is a mystery story for the first half of the book. What is inside the giant forcefield so far away? Who built it? Why was it built? Should humanity be poking around with it? There’s a lot of politics involved in getting a project off the ground to go and find out and I found myself itching for the mission to get going and almost frustrated during these chapters, as indeed some of the characters clearly felt. However, the eventual payoff is spectacular.

Verdict: A long and very complex novel, though well worth it both for an incredibly well-realised future society and fascinating multi-threaded plotting.

Reviewed by Keith

Publisher: Pan Books
Publication Date:2010
Format: Paperback
Pages: 1144
Genre:Space Opera,Speculative Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Keith
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British author
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The Hydrogen Sonata

Iain M Banks

The Scavenger species are circling.
It is, truly, the End Days for the Gzilt civilisation.
An ancient people, organised on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture ten thousand years ago and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they’ve made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilisations: they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex experience.
Amid preparations, though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossant appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted – dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossant must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command. She must find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand years old, who might have some idea what happened all that time ago.
It seems that the final days of the Gzilt civilisation are likely to prove its most perilous.

The Hydrogen Sonata is the latest novel in Banks’ long running Culture series, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It centres on the preparations of the Gzilt civilisation to Sublime, leaving their physical experience behind them and attaining a new ethereal existence. However, there is a secret that could change the minds of the Gzilt people and the few that know it go to extreme lengths to keep it to themselves.

Most of the Culture novels are concerned with the Culture’s hyper-intelligent, benevolent Minds influencing the development of less advanced civilisations, nudging them onwards, mediating in conflicts and examining the moral and ethical dilemmas that arise from this philosophy (an earlier book notes that Earth was left alone as a “control group”!). The Hydrogen Sonata is unusual in that the Gzilt are just as advanced as the Culture – having been involved in the Culture’s formation, so rather than influencing their development, the Culture get involved simply to satisfy their own curiosity about the secret.

Most of the main characters are self-aware Culture ships, each one run by a Mind (with a capital “M” – mere biological beings such as humans only have minds). The novels which focus on the ships tend to be the funniest and this is no exception. This novel continues the tendency of the ships choosing humorous and whimsical names for themselves, including the Caconym (literally meaning “The wrong name”) and Refreshingly Unconcerned With The Vulgar Exigencies of Veracity. The passages where the ships are bickering and gossiping with each other had me chortling away.

The humorous tone continues as the early chapters explain that The Hydrogen Sonata is a piece of music written centuries earlier for an instrument that was yet to be invented. By the time the novel takes place, the instrument has finally been invented, but due to its immense complexity, the Gzilt woman Vyr Cossant has had two extra arms implanted in order to attempt to play it, much to the annoyance of her passive-aggressive and over-protective mother.

The novel’s title serves a dual purpose of course, as it is symbolic of the Subliming process itself. The more serious parts of the book feature some adept, and seemingly effortless writing by Banks as he explains the lofty concepts and processes within the book, using that same talent with some inventive and highly impressive action set pieces.

The only point where the book fails is in the ending – an unfortunately common complaint with Banks’ work. The final chapters feel quite emotionally flat and rather predictable. It’s certainly a shame after the huge bombshell dropped in the very final sentence of Surface Detail, the previous Culture novel.

Verdict: Effortlessly combining lofty SF concepts with humorous prose and adrenalin fuelled set pieces. It’s only a shame the ending is a bit of a non-event.

Reviewed by Keith

Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: October 2012
Format: Hardback
Pages: 517
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Speculative Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Keith
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: None
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