Thursday, November 27, 2008

Book Review: Frank Herbert & Bill Ranson – The Ascension Factor (1988)

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The Ascension Factor is my favorite book from the trilogy, maybe because is the first I read years ago. I was still fresh from entering the Dune universe and had proclaimed myself a Frank Herbert lover although I hadn’t read anything else beside the Dune series, so I was quite excited to delve into another, thick, book written by him.

As a stand alone piece this book works quite well, and the aquatic universe was a nice change after the sands from Dune, even if the pace and style is a little different. Compared to the events in the previous book from the trilogy the conditions and environment have changed. The seaweeds have been used to create the inexistent ground at the surface and now there are continents.

People living on them are still oppressed, the politic of starvation and food control being continued by the current leader. Ironically, this one is a clone of the original priest/psychologist from the Ship that has brought them there on Pandora, the same person who was brought back from cryogenic sleep in The Jesus Incident to teach people how to worship the Ship. He keeps things on a tight leash, his tyrant reign causes the people to revolt setting up a rebel move that fights against him. His current project is to design a spaceship similar to the original Ship and move the population to another planet in order to preserve it.

Meantime the seaweeds are kept under a certain control by the current control center placed on the orbit, and repeated bombing. The large vegetation mass that calls itself Avata is not as docile as it seems though. Scintillations appear in the seaweed population on and off in a sort of communication language and there’s a young woman who has been found in the water, presumably being a creation of the seaweeds, and kept prisoner by the ones in charge for several years. She has no recollection of the time spent in the seaweed environment and little connection with the world and outside people, while she shares the memories held by Avata and possesses a large amount of mental power that make ordinary people consider her a God-like. An entire religion is built around her.

In these circumstances a well-known journalist who is supporting the rebels goes underground along with the escaped woman to investigate the new ship that is being built and help the resistance. Separately they have no answers but together along with Avata they found what they need to prevent a catastrophe.

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Written for “Scrie ca sa primesti… o carte”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review: Frank Herbert & Bill Ranson – The Lazarus Effect (1983)

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The second book (third in the original series) from the Pandora series, The Lazarus Effect, presents the state of things at over half a millennia since the conscious spaceship, The Ship, brought its passengers to a world covered in water, Pandora, and left them there to learn to worship it or perish in extinction.

But the human race is stubborn and doesn’t give in that easily. With the seaweeds that populate the oceans reduced to a vegetable state, humans more or less control the planet. If that thing is even possible given the fact that there’s no ground left at the surface to live on and half of the population is degrading due to various mutations that plagues it, while life into the deep is still not an easy ride.

The society is separated in two distinct classes. The Islanders live in over populated cities built on huge rafts floating on the oceans. Life is poor except for those at the top, most people struggling to survive in a world that’s lacking in food and most basic supplies. Generation after generation of inland breeding of the descendents of the original crew from the ship and their clones and experimental mutants, the end result is not pretty on the eye or easy to live with. The only good part of this downward on the evolution path is that they learned to tolerate each other being less prone for discrimination based on physical flaws.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the Mermens. They are normal humans who adapted their lifestyle to living under water, which is possible due to the advanced high-tech knowledge only they possess. Stronger and less inclined towards acceptance they hate and despise the Islanders, their innate hate making them go as far as planning attempts to sink the fragile islands without feeling remorse at the thought of the lives they’re taking as Islanders are guilty for destroying the seaweed ambient.

Mermens’ secret project is to restore the original environment on Pandora, and bring back the conscience into the seaweeds that form Avata, the over-all conscious being who used to be so unwelcoming towards the first colonist. With their help they work on building new continents meant to replace the drifting islands. They also plan to collect the tanks left on the orbit by the Ship before its departure, because they have reasons to believe there might contain preserved human beings who could join and help their cause.

Once the critical mass is reached again the seaweeds become once again what they used to be, regaining their memories from their human descendent who has been kept living on one of the islands. The title reflects the seaweeds ability to incorporate the personalities of the dead, giving them immortality.

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Written for “Scrie ca sa primesti…o carte”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book Review: Frank Herbert & Bill Ranson – The Jesus Incident (1979)

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Everyone interested in SF has heard of the Dune series and even most non SF avid fans have thanks to the Dune movies and TV series. But what not everyone is aware of is that Frank Herbert in collaboration with Bill Ranson set up the bases of another shorter series designed in an aquatic universe and meant to be just as captivating almost thirty years ago. The fact that for various reasons it failed to match up the hype caused by Dune is another story.

It might seem a little odd that Nemira skipped the first book in the series and only translated and published the last three books. Therefore “our” story begins thousands of years after the initial events. The central characters are not the people, although there are lots in it among which a few distinctive ones, but two normally inanimate objects, a spaceship and a planet.

A spaceship that has developed a conscience, The Ship, requires of the population it carries through space to worship it and isn’t happy with the way it’s being done. The Ship decides to have its crew settled on a planet and set up the bases of a new civilization there, the future of this civilization depending on whether people find the right way to worship The Ship or not. The problem is that the new environment is not people friendly, it is a world mostly made of water, in which the oceans are populated by dangerous seaweeds while the ground is dominated but deadly creatures.

First efforts to colonize the planet, called Pandora, are being made under the form of a base/lab/fortress where the lead priest-psychologist moves to supervise the operation. A new generation of genetically engineered clones which are meant to be more resistant to the dangers outside is designed. The lack of resources and supplies, The Ship is not exactly generous with them, eventually leads to revolt. Memorable are the night tours around the perimeter defying the native aggressors.

Meantime on the Ship the first priest-psychologist is awoken from the cryogenic sleep as a last attempt to get people on the right track and show them how to worship. He is sent to Pandora, the incarnation of a prophet, to do his work against the current priest suspected of treason. Things have changed since his time, there are original humans and clones living and discrimination between classes is there as expected, while the new breed has no rights at all.

The Ship works on multiple plans always keeping things on a tight leash. Its favorite student is sent to Pandora to initiate contact with the seaweed species based on the theory that it might be conscious and intelligent, an entity that controls the planet and calls itself Avata. In parallel his girlfriend is sent back in time to experience first hand Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.

With a writing style heavy at times, loaded with introspection, reflections on people, life, philosophy and religion, the story is given an adequate ending with an opening for hope and future books.

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Written for “Scrie ca sa primesti…o carte”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review: Robert Charles Wilson – Spin (2005)

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What would happen if the stars suddenly disappeared one night while watching the sky? This phenomenon is experienced by teenagers Jason and Diane, brother and sister, children of a wealthy industrialist, and Tyler, the maid’s son. The story is presented through Tyler’s eyes, past and present interlinking while he’s writing his memoirs during a painful treatment meant to physically advance him to a superior stage.

For years they don’t know what is going on. The insecurity and lack of sense in life makes Jason become a scientist, Diane join a religious cult and Tyler, who struggles with an unfulfilled crush on Diane, become a doctor. In their own way they’re all looking for answers, salvation, absolution. But none really finds either of them. There is no solution, the matter is out of their hands.

Little by little answers start to appear. Earth is enveloped in a membrane meant to stop radiation from killing its inhabitants while the sun is dying. The other surprising thing is the fact that time fluency is distorted by the membrane and a couple of weeks on earth are the equivalent of billions of years in the rest of the universe. Humans’ attempt to destroy the devices floating above the poles that are responsible for creating the membrane fails and the membrane reappears in a short time. Now they have the proof that their sun is indeed dying but time is not lost.

Next attempt is terraformation of Mars. Since the membrane is permeable they send a ship over there to create a new civilization from scratch, one that might find answers and solutions for their problem. Things start to look less promising when Mars gets its own protective membrane years later. Having a common problem now, a ships travels from Mars to Earth bringing a representative of the new civilization along with an all diseases cures among other things.

There is never given a definite answer. What is implied is that the galaxy is populated by self replicating machines that protect planets when they reach their peak and the decline is about to start because of lack of resources and physical difficulties. There are lots of other planets experiencing a similar fate and what people discover is that all these planets are inter-connected through worm-hole gates which allow them to travel almost effortlessly from one planet to another.

It is this kind of travel that Tyler and Diane embark on after having both taken the Marsian cure and being hunted by the authorities for it. Only that we don’t know how it ends. They just enter another world and look prepared for a new adventure. Hopefully the next book will tell us all about it.

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Written for “Scrie ca sa primesti…o carte”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Book Review: Jack McDevitt – Seeker (2006)

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I got this book for free. It was one of the books I received at the end of the campaign “Write to receive… a book”. I had to choose the books I was entitled to from a list and while I got to the last option, it was a toss up between The Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. II and something else since I had already chosen vol. III and IV which were most expensive, but I felt in the mood for another novel even if I hadn’t read anything by that author or even heard of him before. The presentation from the site wasn’t too appealing and what determined me to choose Seeker was the mention of Nebula Award. Still I wasn’t expecting much, but since it was free…

I’m glad to say I had been wrong and I was pleasingly surprised. The book has a great rhythm and I didn’t even notice the time passing by or the pages flying. I didn’t put it down once I started reading. Sure it’s not rocket science or much philosophy in it but it was an enjoyable read.

The book is written at first person, the main character being a woman (that coming from a male writer should be interesting but he managed to stay vague enough so any flaws wouldn’t be too obvious) called Chase (quite a suggestive name given her profession). She works for Alex in what seems like a two people company and they’re basically the treasure hunters of the future. Ten thousands of years or so from now, the civilization has evolved in the expected direction with little surprises and travelling to different galaxies to look for thousands of years old artifacts is still a highly paid and successful job.

It all starts with a cup with ancient writing on it that is brought to their office for an expertise. The theory that its origin might be from one of the two ships that have left mother earth four thousands of years in the past with the professed intention to form an utopist society on an unknown planet send Chase and Alex, well, mostly Chase, on a ghost chase across the universe. She is in charge with the researches so she gets to travel the most, with her own ship, so good thing she is also a pilot. They’re sort of celebrities in their circle knowing important people and also having powerful rivals who wouldn’t stop from anything to steal their discoveries, or would they?

What sticks in mind among other things is Chase’s trip to the “mutes” world, a telepathic insect race that is usually considered repulsive by humans and vice-versa. Moving from one clue to another the two of them manage to go on a successful trip during which they find one of the departed ships with the crew intact and full of children, which looks like a salvation tentative that has failed.

As soon as the word gets out regarding their discovery the hits against them start to happen, someone is really against the idea of them finding out what happened with the ships like they didn’t have enough detractors of their work already. But they are two stubborn characters who refuse to give up. Eventually they find the second ship and the planet with the humans’ living descendants and collect the glory, even get a statue in the mutes’ museum. Fun. I’d like to read a sequel to that.

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Written for “Scrie ca sa primesti…o carte”