Okay – that’s a pretty bland title, I admit. Well, I’m back! Tried to take a nap, but there’s just so much to do (like blog). On my zero-G chair at the campground, I can fall asleep on a dime. Back home, however, I’m just too jazzed.
So, I made my yearly pilgrimage to the Book Barn, and I actually had some time to get through some books (as the kids get older, my “loaf time” increases). I love my movies, but nothing quite compares to walking into the Book Barn, staring at thousands of titles, and knowing each and every one of them can transport me to a faraway place. Say what you want, nothing compares to the vastness of experiences that lay waiting in the many books available to us today. Books are the ultimate entertainment – period.
For me, I’m not big on thrillers/suspense novels (though the rest of the world is – Grisham, Cussler, and Patterson are all quite wealthy – 1 in 17 novels sold in America have Patterson’s name on the cover). So, when I visit the Book Barn, I head downtown for the Sci-Fi/Fantasy “barn.” I’d definitely on more of a sci-fi kick recently, so I loaded up on some stuff I’ve been meaning to read… of course, I also loaded-up on some fantasy. At $1 per book, how can you go wrong?
Here’s the title’s I got through this week – it would have been more, but I did also enjoy trips to the beach, firepits, and bike rides with my family. Balance – all of life is a delicate balance:
The Lure, by Bill Napier
That blurb on the back of the book is so important – I usually buy on that alone. After strolling through the stacks at the Book Barn, I pulled the Lure, read the back, and popped it into my “yes” stack. Sci-Fi which deals with the hints of alien life set in modern times is one of my Achilles’ heels (that, and buffets). The Lure deals with an alien signal and the race to decode it. Good stuff!
While I thought the initial concept was excellent, and the setup was done quite well – a few things kept this one from “catching” me. First, the writer jumped tenses quite a bit. While this was intentional in the next book I finished, there was nothing intentional here. Sometimes, it makes sense to switch tense. For example - in dialog or when a scene recounts past events. This wasn’t the case. I can usually forgive a little sloppy editing, so let’s continue.
Call me kooky, but I prefer 1 point-of-view (POV) character per novel. Or, at least, chapter-break me when you switch. In The Lure, we are sometimes inside 1 character for an entire chapter, and sometimes we float between 3 or more minds on the same page. I got a little dizzy at times, and I’m not sure it was the best approach. If Mr. Napier wanted omniscience, then a little consistency would have gone a long way. It was a tad jarring, but I was able to move on.
At the end of the day, my biggest complaint was the characters – nobody was really “evil”, nobody was really “good”… everyone was sorta “grey.” (back-off, I prefer the English spelling!) I mean, the story was enjoyable – not too many complaints there. However, the characters fell a tad flat for me. We jumped into so many minds, from so many different viewports, that by the end I wasn’t sure who I was rooting for. In a way, that could be a brilliant angle to take with a novel or work of fiction. However, here, there was a cohesive story with a clearly defined goal for the “heroes”. I just didn’t care if they won or lost… and I think the ending was a little too convenient.
Now, all that said – Mr. Napier knows his shit. I’m not a huge fan of “Hard” Sci-Fi (I prefer story and character to take center-stage), but this novel was clearly in the “Hard” realm. Some of the concepts were pretty awesome to read about, even if my irradiated brain could only comprehend 10%. I always give props to writers who reasearch the shit out of their topic, and Mr. Napier has the background and mind to convey his higher concepts to a lower lifeform, such as myself.
Star Dragon, by Mike Brotherton
While not as “Hard” as The Lure, Star Dragon had it’s share of monstrously technical passages. I usually glazed over these, but in-between was a fun little story about a small crew and A.I. out on a 500-year mission. (again, the book blurb got me)
Of course, if you believe in E=mc2 (I’m skeptical), then that 500 year mission is only about a half a year for the crew of the ship. (in case you fell asleep in science class: General Relativity)
So, the crew is on a Dragon Hunt, funded by a mega-corporation in Earth’s future. An old earth probe recorded a few minutes of a “Star Dragon” floating in the super-heated disk of a white dwarf and the corp wants to study the alien tech or biology. Fun stuff! While the story doesn’t stand on it’s own (seems expensive to me, and a 500 year investment is almost too much for me to swallow), that’s okay! I’m along for the ride!
Mr. Brotherton paints a technological future where biotech has bloomed and is a part of everyday life (“chairbeasts” conform to your buttocks and temperature). All of that is done quite well, though there are a few head-scratchers. For a moment, the trip to capture the dragon was shaping-up to be a man vs. wild morality themed story. Awesome! I wish the writer had spent more time with humanity’s desire to catch and cage wild animals. While that struggle was hinted (and comprised the climax), the crew interactions spent the most time in the spotlight. In the end, the capture was the focal point, and all ethical observations and parallels to treatment of new animal species were promptly forgotten. Until the story turned away from the “animal question”, I was rooting for the dragons to win.
Again, here’s another example of a whole bunch of “grey” characters with goals of fame, personal achievement and curiosity. We jumped into all of their heads (and the ship A.I., which was well-done in present-tense), so their motives and pasts were all there for the taking. When they acted against each other, it was short-lived and they “made-up” quite quickly. If at least one character was farther to either end of the moral spectrum, I think things could have been a bit more interesting on the ship.
Bah, what do I know? I’m always preaching that “plot” is evil, and you should let the story evolve naturally. If one of them was more malignant, perhaps it would have felt contrived. I dunno, maybe it would have been more interesting if one of the characters second-guessed the morality of travelling 240 light years to bag a space dragon – that would make for some interesting conflict…
Triplanetary, by E. E. “Doc” Smith
I’ve been meaning to get to the Lensman series for quite some time. I finally did!
As a sci-fi enthusiast, it was pure joy to read some of the material that set the tone for all of our popular sci-fi today. Written in a time when women were useless and needed to be saved, and big lasers gave us big hard-ons, Triplanetary is a must read for anyone who claims to love sci-fi. You may roll your eyes at the clichés, but remember – this guy invented most of them! (and no, women were never useless, but they sure seemed that way in 1940′s fiction!)
Your socks won’t get knocked-off by anything between the covers, but you will be entertained! I promptly trekked back to the Book Barn to pick up the 2nd Lensman novel – I will get to that on the plane this week.
When pitching the concept in the 1930s and 1940s, “Doc” Smith wrote elaborate outlines and such. However, he didn’t exactly follow them because he was a true fuckin’ storyteller:
“[my] characters get away from me and do exactly as they damn please.” – E. E. “Doc” Smith
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