space opera

    Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Books 2014, 13)

    This is the one that's won them all: BSFA (jointly), Clarke, Nebula, and more recently, the Hugo Award. Never before has a single book had such a sweeping effect on the world of SF awards.

    And does it deserve them all? Does it live up to the effusive reaction of the community?

    Err, well… no, not really.

    Which is not to say it’s bad. In a sense, nothing could live up that level of praise.

    However, my personal problem with it – at least at first – was this: I like my super-intelligent spaceship minds to be the good guys. To be part of, and defending, Utopia. In short, I want The Culture. And I guess I hoped that Ann Leckie might sort of take Banksie’s place.

    Obviously there wasn’t much chance of that, and it isn’t fair to judge the book on those terms.

    So, back to its own terms. In any case, these super-intelligent spaceship minds aren’t necessarily bad guys; but they’re in the service of a pretty unpleasant empire. Though things get ambiguous. And interesting. And of course, there’s the gender-blindness of the viewpoint character, which is great. So yeah, it was fun, I enjoyed it, it goes to some interesting places, and it sets things up nicely for a series.

    Oh, god, a series. Does nobody write books in ones any more? I was just looking at the current crop of so-called “Black Friday” deals on Kindle. There were quite a lot of books for crazy-cheap prices. Except… there weren’t really that many if you count a series as one.

    C’mon, folks, write a book that doesn’t have a sequel, hey?

    But I digress. Go read about Ancillary Justice: you’ll find reviews of it all over the place. Then go and read it. It’s great.

    Old Man's War, by John Scalzi (Books 2008, 3)

    I've been reading Scalzi's [blog (Whatever...)]( on and off for a few years, and he comes across as one of the good guys: certainly on the side of light, a good laugh, and someone you imagine would be fun to meet. So I've been meaning to read his SF for a while.

    My thanks to his publishers, Tor, then, for making his debut available via their free ebooks programme. I read most of it on the Eee PC, with some bits on my phone (when I was standing up on the tube).

    In short, I loved it; though I have some doubts, or reservations.

    It’s a curious universe (or at least, galaxy) that he describes: it is teeming with life, intelligent life; but nearly all of it is antithetical to nearly all of the rest of it. Certainly, it is a book about war (the clue’s in the title); but it’s not one war between humanity and another alien race. Instead it’s a series of small wars to defend human colonies from alien attackers, and to attack alien colonies and capture the planets for humans. And once our hero joins up, he is constantly at war; there is no respite, at least that we hear of.

    And only one, minor, character questions this state of affairs (though others do express their doubts).

    I have a feeling, though, that these questions may be addressed in the sequels, which I’m keen to read (more proof, were it needed, that giving things away can be a good thing for authors and publishers alike).

    The ‘old-man’s’ bit is that you can only join up when you reach 75 years of age. You relinquish your Earth-nation’s citizenship and are legally considered dead. Members of the Colonial Defense Force can never return to Earth.

    But to make up for that, you get a new youthful body, and (if you make it through your tour of duty) the opportunity to have a new life on a colony planet. The Colonial powers being technologically far in advance of Earth (which has become a bit of a backwater), there is not similar life-extension technology available to those on Earth.

    So you can see the temptation. Peaceful soul that I am, I can imagine that I might take up the offer. Life is better than the alternative, you know?