The book could have easily been subtitled, “What’s wrong with Star Trek’s Prime Directive!” Not that this must have been the inspiration for this book, there’s enough science fiction with a similar concept, but far too few books who show how naive, arrogant and wrongheaded such a position is. A first contact between transhumans on a generation ship and alien space bats who have just reached their own industrial age turns out to be a new experience for both sides.
Learning the World is about the politics of first contact, written from the POV of both sides, the seemingly more advanced humans and the seemingly lesser advanced alien space bats. We see not only how the Prime Directive approach crashes when coming into contact with reality (and how much of its assumptions are wrongheaded), we also see how much the ingenious aliens can achieve with their primitive resources. The aliens, by the way, are some of the least alien aliens, a deliberate decision on MacLeod’s part.
While I can understand the reasons for doing so, this is the one breaking point of the book, the aliens at times act so much like humans, that you feel more like reading a fable, not science fiction. Another problem is that the middle of the book is a bit slow going, the most interesting things happen in the first third and the last third. Still, the book has much going for it, a neat and detailed background and a plot who is most of the time interesting. Learning the World is a much needed update to first contact and Prime Directive meme.
A first contact novel that puts new spins on aliens, minds and vampires. It’s hard to write aliens who really feel like aliens, yet are still comprehensible. Watts succeeds admirably by using some clever tweaks to old expectations. If you haven’t encountered some of the ideas he uses before, the book will pack a hefty punch, and even if you have, it’s always nice to see them incorporated into such a well written and well extrapolated SF book.
More disturbingly than even the aliens is his riff on vampires, and when you reach the end of the book the gut-wrenching conclusion of their relationship with us humans. Watts fiction is not for the faint of heart, Blindsight is no exception, don’t except happy ends or something similar. But if you like interesting ideas and viewpoints, if you’re willing to follow a thought experiment wherever it may lead, then Blindsight will be an absolutely worthwhile read. It was for me.
In the far future mankind has sent out Von Neumann machines to the stars who have established the Dreamtime, an interstellar network that stores uploaded human minds after their death and reincarnates them later again into the flesh. But something has gone wrong, and now entities with minds far superior to baseline humans roam the Dreamtime and fight against each other, with humans as their pawns, or worse.
Conceptually far above most of his later stuff, Scratch Monkey reads like a dry run for Accelerando (some of the same ideas, but without the concept of the technological singularity taken into the equation, all things happen on a much longer timescale). Written between 1988 and 1993, this could have been, if it had been published as a book, an interesting counterpoint to Egan’s idealistic transhuman vision of uploaded human minds in Diaspora or Permuation City.
Scratch Monkey is everything but idealistic, it paints one of the most horrific futures imaginable. If you want to get an idea how dark it is, it comes close to Stross’s own short story “A Colder War”. While it’s not a happy-reading book, it’s full of neat ideas, every page, like in his later book Accelerando, seems to burst with information that the author seems all to happy to upload into the readers mind. I liked it much more than most of his other, not-so-info-dense fiction, and everyone who thought Accelerando was brilliant should give Scratch Monkey a try.
27 vignettes that cover the encounters between many diverse aliens and humans in the Draco Tavern. Established in Siberia two years after the arrival of the first aliens, the Draco Tavern is the only place on Earth where you can sit around a table with aliens, drink something and talk about everything, be it science, gods, sex, technology or other important things.
But beware, talking to aliens might, if you ask the right questions, make you rich or lose yourself completely. These vignettes are a bit like jokes, if you share the writers taste, you might like them as much as I did, but if you don’t you might wonder why people care about them. You won’t get deep characterization or much action, most of the time you have humans and aliens philosophizing about mundane or not so mundane things. The whole setting reminded me a bit of James White’s Orbit Hospital with its many aliens and living conditions, and another thing that is similar, humans (and most aliens likewise) seem to be more peaceful than in most other fiction.
The stories feel like a look at the dawn of mankind before it begins to grow into something bigger, before humans go out to the stars, travel, discover. Uncommon for SF, here mankind gave up space exploration, then aliens came and this changed. Whatever mankind grows into, there always will be the knowledge that we got a second chance, that we had a helping hand, that we aren’t alone out there and have many friends, even if they are strange and alien. Great collection IMHO and I hope Larry Niven writes more Draco Tavern stories.
Finding a completely new sort of material in the system of Malhelia, the colonists inform Earth of their discovery. But when an Earth ship reaches the Malhelian system centuries later, it finds something even more interesting, alien ships that hover near the event horizon of the black hole near the Malhelian system.
I liked the idea more than I liked it’s execution. Not to say that it’s a bad book, it isn’t, but I think McCarthy could have done more with it. The real action, when the aliens begin to leave the slowtime deeps of the black hole, starts only in the last third of the book, the first and second third is used to introduce the reader to the cast, the crew of the Introspectia and the Unuan colonists. Which is all nice, but none of the characters are particularly interesting, apart from moving the plot forward. The aliens itself are even less interesting, we don’t learn enough about them, and while the epiphany one character has about their nature near the end of the book proves interesting, it’s not enough. All that said, it’s still an interesting read, just not as good as it might have been.
Morroloan and Aliera have been kidnapped by the Jenoine, the beings who where ages ago masters of Vlad’s world, and against whom the gods stand guard. Now Lady Teldra has located Vlad and tells him of the abduction of his friends, and together they try to bring them back and find out what the Jenoine have planned.
While it looks like Vlad actually doesn’t do much during the whole book apart from talking with Teldra and wondering what to do to fight the seemingly almighty Jenoine, there’s actually much happening, with some nice twists at the end who’ll change Vlad’s status a bit, even if those changes have been hinted at in earlier books. The fight near the end between Vlad’s side and the Jenoine is a showcase for the Dragon Ball syndrome, when you raise the stakes with every succeeding part of a series, it’s hard to make a fight (or more general a plot conflict) look convincingly dramatic. Still, the rest of the book is excellent reading material, like the rest of the series, and doesn’t disappoint.
While trying to find a way to heal Svan (the narrator of the last Vlad book), Vlad gets involved in something that looks like a small white collar crime at first, but (like so often) turns out to be something much bigger, with the fate of the whole empire at stake.
This book is divided between Vlad and Kiera the thief narrating the story. Both work at different angles of the same problem and recount to each other later what happened during their day. The whole thing feels like a puzzle, with Kiera and Vlad slowly accumulating all the pieces. Unlike Svan in the last book, Kiera is a more interesting narrator and the plot is also a bit more interesting, which makes this a slightly better book than the last one. Typically for the Vlad series, we have some uncommon themes in a fantasy book, at least I don’t know many fantasy books concerned with finance/banks trouble.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned concerning freeware games, it’s that you shouldn’t judge games by their screen shots. The first time I saw some screens of Seiklus I thought it looked ugly, but after playing it I found this to be a very unique, simple style who fits the game perfectly.
Seiklus is a strange game, part Adventure, part 2d-platformer, but without any enemies to kill or the danger of dying. For me this had a very relaxing effect on my playing style, I could run around without always thinking: “What’s going to kill me next?”, like in other games. Mostly you run around, collect orbs and enjoy the landscape.
It’s described as an exploration game, and that’s mostly true, what I enjoyed most about it was simply walking through the scenery (and listening to the excellent music) and discovering new locations.
Still on the run from the Jhereg, Vlad stumbles upon a little village where someone is already waiting for him, ready to kill. Told from the perspective of one of the village boys, this book is about Vlad appearing, getting nearly killed and then going after whoever is after him, besides of the Jhereg.
While part of the Vlad series, it’s more a Svan book (the little boy from the village). Sure, Vlad plays are big role in the plot, but one of the reasons while I like this series is reading the books from Vlad’s unique perspective, it’s half the fun. And while Svan is a nice character, he is far from being as interesting and unique as Vlad as the POV. Vlad himself is most of the time unconscious, which I admit would have made for a bad narrator. The plot itself is okay, but a far cry from the complexity of earlier books, and bit slow moving. Overall this feels like Brust wasn’t sure where to go next with Vlad, and tried something new. While I’m all for change before a formula gets stale, I think changing the POV wasn’t the best decision in this case. Still, overall an enjoyable read, even if its not as great as other Vlad novels.