Tag Archives: epic space opera

Friday Faceoff – In The Beginning There Was Nothing, Which Exploded

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s topic is comparing explosions. I decided to go for a whizz-bang wallop types of explosion, rather than the magical, glowing kinds, so selected Neal Asher’s Hilldiggers, Book 2 of the Polity series, though it works quite well as a standalone. See my review here.

 

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This first cover was produced by Tor in 2007. I like the way the space craft is outlined against the fireball that is probably about to engulf it – an arresting image, with a gas giant, maybe Jupiter in the background.

 

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This second cover was released by Night Shade Book in 2014. I love this one. The space battle is so much more dynamic, in devastating detail. It is also beautiful and stylish, with a darker and more limited colour palette. I think this is the best cover. Do you agree?

Favourite Space Operas – Part 1

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I have a particular weakness for space operas. It’s an abiding disappointment that I’ll never make it into space – but at least I can do so vicariously with the magic of books. And these are a handful of my favourites in no particular order…

The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity theforeverwatchmust be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

Generational ship science fiction provides an ideal backdrop for any kind of drama, given that it is the ultimate closed system. And because it is also entirely imaginary, it means an author can add/tweak all sorts of details designed to ramp up the tension and increase the sense of claustrophobia… So does Ramirez take full advantage of this scenario? Oh yes. This is an extraordinary tale – and the final twist took my breath away. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
And this is another gem that makes extensive use of the generational ship device…

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal childrenoftimearray of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

Kern’s plans go awry and the species that actually becomes uplifted isn’t Kern’s monkeys, at all. In a tale of unintended consequences, it would have only taken a couple of tweaks for this to morph into a Douglas-Adams type farce. But it doesn’t, as the ship’s desperate plight becomes ever sharper and the species continues to evolve into something unintended and formidable. I love the wit and finesse with which Tchaikovsky handles this sub-genre and turns it into something original and enjoyable. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Fledgeling – a New Liaden novel by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
Having trumpeted this post as being all about space operas, I’m now giving you a book where there is hardly any space ship action – but that is because it is the start of a long-running series, which deserves to read in the correct order.

fledglingDelgado is a Safe World. That means the population is monitored – for its own good – and behaviour dangerous to society is quickly corrected. Delgado is also the home of one of the galaxy’s premier institutions of higher learning, producing both impeccable research and scholars of flair and genius. On Safe Delgado, then, Theo Waitley, daughter of Professor Kamele Waitley, latest in a long line of Waitley scholars, is “physically challenged” and on a course to being declared a Danger to Society. Theo’s clumsiness didn’t matter so much when she and her mother lived out in the suburbs with her mother’s lover, Jen Sar Kiladi. But, suddenly, Kamele leaves Jen Sar and moves herself and Theo into faculty housing, immediately becoming sucked into faculty politics. Leaving Theo adrift and shocked – and vulnerable…

This coming-of-age novel is largely in fourteen-year-old Theo’s viewpoint. But it isn’t particularly aimed at the YA market, although I’d have no problem with any teenager reading it. The world is deftly realised and it took me a few pages just to absorb the strangeness and different customs, as Lee and Miller don’t hold up the pace with pages of explanation. So readers need to keep alert. However, this book is a delight. My very favourite sub-genre is accessible, enjoyable science fiction and this is a cracking example. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Marrow by Robert Reed
The ship is home to a thousand alien races and a near-immortal crew who have no knowledge of its origins or purpose. At its core lies a secret as ancient as the universe. It is about to be unleashed.

This is definitely in the realm of epic space opera – with the emphasis on vastness. The ship Humankind marrowhas appropriated is immense. The population this ship supports is in the millions and the people running this ship are of the transhuman variety, in that they are all but immortal with lifespans stretching into the hundreds and thousands of years. To be able to sustain a storyline with plenty of twists and turns, and yet continue to be able to denote the sheer weirdness of the backdrop that is also key to said story takes serious writing skill. It’s one reason why science fiction is regarded with such snootiness in certain quarters – it is easy to write badly and difficult to write well.

So is Reed up to the task? Oh for sure. The only slightly dodgy pov was the initial prologue when the ship is talking and that doesn’t last long. Other than that, the mix of multiple and semi omniscient viewpoint works well. I was gripped by the story and cared sufficiently about the characters, despite none of them being all that likeable – they are too alien and inhuman. But that didn’t stop me becoming completely engrossed in the twists and turns over a huge span of time. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Clockwork Rocket – Book 1 of The Orthogonal by Greg Egan
There are degrees of science fiction – some books are long on character development and the social consequences of futuristic living, while being short on the science that underpins it, known as soft theclockworkrocketscience fiction. Other books are far more concerned with the science and gismos that will actually power and run our future worlds – the hard science fiction. Egan, as a physicist, has always been on the harder side of the genre, but the important difference – for me – is that he is also able to write convincing characters into the bargain.

However, this time around he has produced a truly different world, where the laws of physics as we know them no longer work. He calls this a Riemannian universe as opposed to the Lorentzian version we inhabit. In Egan’s world, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity simply doesn’t make sense. Further, the basic humanoid template, so prevalent in most space opera adventures, is also off the table. Egan demonstrates a head-swivelling leap of imagination by producing a race of beings who don’t look like us, don’t breed like us… It’s an awesome achievement.

This is one of the most exciting books to be produced in the genre for years – I cannot think of another story that equals the sheer inventive genius displayed by Egan. Readers can take on board as much or as little of the physics as they wish – but his cleverness would be beside the point if the narrative was so hampered by the long passages describing the world that we all ceased to care whether the heroine prevailed or not. However, Yalda’s story gripped me from the start and didn’t let go. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled the-long-way-666x1024past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

Is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship.

It’s always a big ask to depict aliens such that they seem realistic and sympathetic, without being merely humans with odd names and the occasional nifty add-on. Chambers has triumphantly succeeding in providing a range of fascinating lifeforms that explore the notions of gender and how to cope with difference, while stretching our preconceptions of parenting and family life. Read the rest of my review here.

So here you have the first selection of my favourite space faring stories – are there any glaring omissions you would like to add?

Review of Orphaned Worlds – Book 2 of Humanity’s Fire by Michael Cobley

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You’ve picked up a copy of Orphaned Worlds, lured by the cool spacescape on the cover and Iain M. Banks recommendation, but haven’t yet encountered the first book in the series. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to read it before hunting down that first instalment, Seeds of Earth. Orphaned Worlds is very much a mid-series book and as this space opera adventure is on an epic scale, orphanedworldstrying to work out what exactly is going on means some serious flailing around. I know – I tried it…

Seeds of Earth has mostly been very well received by critics and readers alike who enjoy this sub-genre. So, the question has to be – does Orphaned Worlds manage to sustain the standard set by Seeds of Earth?

Darien is no longer a lost outpost of humanity, but the prize in an intergalactic power struggle. Hegemony forces have a stranglehold over the planet and crack troops patrol its hotspots while Earth watches, rendered impotent by galactic politics. But its Darien ambassador will soon become a player in a greater conflict. there is more at stake than a turf war on a newly discovered world. An ancient Uvovo temple hides access to a hyperspace prison, housing the greatest threat sentient life has ever known. Millennia ago, malignant intelligences were caged there following an apocalyptic war. And their servants work on their release.

I believe this sequel would have benefitted with a Story So Far summary. Cobley did try to help by providing both a list of characters and the 18 different species of aliens that crop up in the story (I wasn’t kidding when I said it was ‘epic’…) and while they were useful reminders after having read Seeds of Earth, neither list was much help when attempting to read Orphaned Worlds first time around.

After completing Seeds of Earth, I found that Orphaned Worlds plunged straight into the story. This is a much faster-paced book as Cobley had already set up the dynamics of his world and we are now in the throes of the conflict, so there are a variety of battles with all the main protagonists – and the antagonists – fighting for their lives both in space and on a number of worlds. As in Seeds of Earth, the story is narrated in third person pov by the various characters, with each chapter titled by the viewpoint character’s name. This gives the reader a great deal of help – absolutely necessary while the action keeps rolling forward.

There is a lot less of the scene setting that silted up Seeds of Earth and I feel that Cobley really hits his stride during this instalment of the Humanity’s Fire series. If you enjoyed Seeds of Earth, I believe that you will certainly find Orphaned Worlds an equally engrossing, entertaining read and I look forward to getting hold of the final book in the trilogy, The Ascendant Stars.
8/10

Review of Seeds of Earth – Book 1 of Humanity’s Fire by Michael Cobley

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Talk about this space opera debut came up on the forums I lurk on more than once – and so I grabbed hold of a copy when it came my way and dived in…

seedsofearthThe first intelligent species to encounter mankind attacked without warning. With little hope of halting the invasion, Earth’s last roll of the dice was to dispatch three colony ships, seeds of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy. The human race would live on… somewhere.  Over a century later, the planet Darien hosts a thriving human settlement. But mankind’s new home harbours secrets dating back to the dawn of history. Secrets that could yet see a devastating war erupt across the entire galaxy…

This is space opera writ large – and although Cobley attempts to drop us into the middle of the rising action, I struggled for the first section. For starters, it seemed far too similar to a whole raft of other Avatar-type scenarios. Beautiful forest-like planet peopled by a (mostly) contented human population and quirky other-worldly aliens – until threatened by an aggressive rapacious enemy intent on acquiring the precious and unique something said planet has to offer… Yeah, yeah – yawwwn…

What actually held me was that a couple of the characters in this storyline were interestingly different – Catriona and Robert Horst both caught and held my attention in amongst the large cast who narrate the story in third person viewpoint. My perseverance paid off – the appearance of Kao Chih from another of the three ships and his desperate quest and various adventures suddenly lit up the whole book. The initial storyline became less of a cliché as it progressed and I found the notion of humanity caught between two vast, established alien powerblocks fascinating. It was always going to be a big ask for Cobley to be able to whisk his readers into the heart of a story with as many strands and scenarios that comprises this sprawling beast and I’m not convinced that he started in the right place. Both Greg and Theo, two of the main protagonists on Darien, are probably the least interesting characters – especially when set against some of the more intriguing protagonists on offer.

One of the issues examined in Seeds of Earth is the tension between natural humans and those with additional augmentations – while these beings regularly crop up in far future science fiction, their presence generally fades into the furniture – not so in this novel. As we are introduced to characters with and without AI companions, the political and personal consequences of such implants are thoroughly explored. Catriona, a researcher of Darien history and fauna, is a victim of a failed experiment to artificially boost the intellectual capacity of the small human colony as her Enhanced abilities start to falter when she hits puberty.

Overall, Cobley handles the large, varied cast of characters well and once the book hits its stride, I found the pace and narrative drew me right into the story. Any niggles? Well, I could have done with a lot less scene setting which at times interfered with my ability to bond with some of the characters and silted up the action, somewhat. But I am aware that many fans of space opera really enjoy the detailed depiction of the different land and spacescapes offered by authors of this genre. And despite my preference for less description, I was still hooked until the end and look forward to getting hold of the next book in the series, Orphaned Worlds.
8/10