In the first section (it's written in three sections), it's centered around a post-nuclear war Catholic monastery which has attempted to retain as much of the knowledge and technology of the pre-war era as it can get its hands on, with mixed and hilarious results. This section is witty, provocative, and an interesting and thoughtful exploration of both the positive roles of the church as a stabilizing and civilizing force in barbaric times and the negative roles of the church as closed-minded and focused on rote repetition. It's also very funny.
However, the following sections of the book, however, lose this nuanced view and the theme turns into: "What is really wrong with all human societies is that they don't follow the (specifically Catholic) church" and "Without the Catholic church, humans are doomed to despair and savagery". I found this a little hard to swallow, and the depiction in the later sections of the book of Catholic leaders as universally wise, principled, and self-deprecating was a little much. I found these sections both less interesting and less believable.
Overall, I'm glad I read it, but I can't overwhelmingly recommend it.
Compelling (fictional) story of scientific and ethical conflict. Talented researcher and his star underling have found a new result that greatly affects how we view cancer - but the lead researcher suspects that the junior scientist may be faking the results, while the junior scientist feels like he's not getting enough credit. Fictional story, but portrays many of the real-life pressures and frustrations put on working scientists, including the need to secure future funding and academic politics. Well-realized characters and a tense plot. Highly recommended. My only quibble is that a single experiment gives a clear answer that solves the entire problem - something that has never happened in my experience.
This is a really extraordinary collection of short stories. Funny, profound, violent, and very human. Contains the creation story of some characters that appear in other works, and the stories are GOOD. A lot of the stories are about people who have to make hard choices, who are caught in situations where there is no high road to take, and who must choose who they will betray.
I've read "Blood and Iron", one of Bear's fantasy stories, a couple of years ago, and I was immpressed by the imagery in her writing, but not so much with her ideas. This story collection is different - it's great!
This is a fun and entertaining read, with lots of style and derring-do. There are pirates, robots, assassins, mysterious politicians, armless kings, and lost orphans trying to find their families - as well as intrigues, subplots, and chase scenes!
However, Stephen Hunt seems to have tried to write such a huge epic with so many cool features that he loses track of a lot of them. Important, life-changing moments come up repeatedly, but are lost from memory almost as quickly.
I'm uncertain as to the intended audience of this book. It reads like a young adult novel, and stars two early adolescents coming of age, but there are many scenes of disturbingly graphic violence and many key plot points which require a fair political knowledge to grasp.
All in all, a book I enjoyed a whole lot while reading, but which had so many incongruities that I can't call it great writing.
What an appalling bit of tripe. This book got such great reviews and it really was a huge disappointment.
As far as hard scifi goes - you can forget it. Completely implausible alien planet which just happens to have the perfect atmosphere, soil perfect for Earth plants, perfect biota, etc... The alien animals are even edible. I was surprised they didn't speak English.
The real purpose of this book appears to be jingoistic rehashing of the American frontier myths - hard working, freedom-loving, warm-hearted egalitarian rugged individualists triumph over evil religious oppressors. I'm all for a rebels-win-against-all-odds story, but the heavy-handed nationalism in this book was a bit gag-inducing. As was the guilt-ridden nobility of the main characters, who spend much of the book self-flagellating over their own errors.
This is without a doubt one of the worst non-fiction books I've ever read. It doesn't read like it was written by a nanotechnology researcher - it reads like it was written by Victorian-era fourteen year old girl with a HUGE CRUSH on a nanotech researcher.
Sargent is so caught up in making up "cool" metaphors for the concepts he's trying to get across that he completely neglects to actually explain the concepts. As an example, when he is talking about the nanoscale texture of a surface influences cell fate, he explains thusly: "For cells Bauhaus is Eros; Pei, Thanatos." I'm sorry, but an "explanation" that requires you to...
(1) parse that nightmare of a sentence
(2) know that Bauhaus and Pei are architects/schools of architecture
(3) know Greek mythology
...isn't really a useful teaching tool, since you pretty much need to already understand what he's talking about in order to wade through the purple prose.
Sargent suggests that nanotech can do pretty much anything more or less magically, but he doesn't mention a lot of the real problems and limitations with the technology, and he quickly dismisses potential safety concerns. In most cases, he doesn't even give you a feel for what is or is not currently possible - he'll talk about making nanoscale wheels without mentioning that no one has a way of linking them up to any other machinery. Additionally, he claims a lot of nanotechnology "advances" that I would say aren't nanotech at all - experiments which were straightforward biochemistry or combinatorial chemistry, and which the experimenters never claimed were nanotech.
Readers wanting to learn about nanotech are unlikely to get much useful information out of this book, other than the obvious fact that Sargent thinks that nanotech is way cool. They will also have to suffer through a lot of out-of-date pop references, flowery metaphors, and gushing hyperbole. I don't recommend it.
Hated this book. Slick best-seller soulless prose, laughable characters, reactionary scare-mongering. Obviously did a lot of research and went to great efforts to get the scientific trivia correct, but the main premise was so insanely impossible that I couldn't take the plot seriously. It blantently went against every scrap of what's know about genetic potential. If you're going to talk to a whole bunch of geneticists to research your backstory (and I presume he did) why not write about a REAL potential disaster rather than this sensationalized crap?
Prequel to "A Fire in the Deep", but can stand alone. Two human societies, one a free-wheeling trader group, and one an authoritarian imperialist regime, are fighting to control exploration of a once-great alien culture, now degraded. Interesting technologies involved, complex plot, treachery in all directions. It's pretty much a standard space epic - a fun read but not a lot of content. If you like Niven's work, you'll probably enjoy this too.
Human colony on a distant planet, struggling with powering-mongering that is turning toward tyranny. A child is contacted by a force calling itself "God", but which tracks suspiciously close to the planet's moon. Good supense, interesting ideas, characterization is a little flat. There's a little bit of the "if we could only listen to the children, we would somehow find our way to what is right" attitude (which bugs me), but that's my personal pet peeve.
This book encompasses many of the same themes as Dune - a savage planet that forces its population to excellence, breeding of superior humans, communication via subtle shifts in posture and voice, and a galactic conspiracy to suppress the threatening superior humans - but is an infinitely inferior work.
For one thing, there are at least two exclamation points per page. It gets tiring, being shocked! by! a new insight! every other paragraph!
More importantly, while every single character is a scheming, conniving, double-crossing super-agent, we're not given nearly enough background to understand any of their motivations, so it's really hard to care who's winning or why.
This novel is the continuation of "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand", which forms the first chapter and is one of the more hypnotic short stories ever written. The rest of the book does not live up to the high standards of the beginning, being more straighforward fantasy wish-fullfillment. Nonetheless, the whole is a beautiful future romance with excellent ideas about post-apocalyptic genetic manipulations and the fragmenting social structures of a dying world.
It's an interesting idea, and I liked the concept of this conversation between writers, but the book didn't come together for me at all. I kept being annoyed by little things and getting thrown out of the story of the book. The worst part was the faked bad English, which was very badly faked. I kept stopping reading and I would think to myself "there's no way someone learning English could make a mistake like this - you have to already know English well to draw this connection." I also disliked the contrast between the absurdist shetl faux family history and the realistic Ukranian search for family history - I don't mind absurdism, but the contrast made that whole side of the story seem really pointless.
I wasn't expecting much from this book - I got it as a freebie - but I have to say it was remarkably good. Good characters, fast pacing, complex plot, multiple well-realized alien species. Centers around a woman of a gentle, fair-minded race, who is serving time as a judge. She ends up on the periphery of the endgame of an epic battle to stop slave trading. She's mostly a quiet observer, trying in her own delicate fashion to right what is wrong. Also features a number of more active and violent characters who each only see a small part of the puzzle. If you like Ian M. Banks space operas, you'll probably like this book, too - although it's not quite the same caliber.
I'm not a fan of C. J. Cherryh, but I have to admit I enjoyed this book. Well paced, aggressive action and doesn't have her usual annoying attempts to humanize her aliens. Human protagonist is totally lost and overwhelmed in a society that cares for his safety but completely fails to understand his emotional needs or social cues.
I was very disappointed by this book - it's supposed to be one of the classics of science fiction, but it read like a bad Heinlein book. It is full of really fundamental misunderstandings of human psychology - a mixed-gender army in which all women are required to be sexually available on demand? How is that different from rape? A draft specifically on the scholastic elite, but the kids are drafted before they complete their degrees? Even if it were politically feasible to draft the best students, why take them before they've learned the useful skills you're drafting them for? And these are just the problems with the current-world scenarios - the future scenarios are laughable. The aliens are predictable and their motives are completely unexplored, and the futuristic war is just making things go boom with bigger bombs.
I suppose this book would be an okay read for when you want to turn your brain completely off, but if you're looking for intelligent science fiction, forget it. The first couple chapters of this book were promising, but it went rapidly downhill after that. Clumsy writing, one-dimensional characters, cheap pseudo-Navajo mystic babble, obvious and clumsy romance, and tacky secret societies that somehow find it simpler to assassinate multiple government officials than to fire a lackey. If anyone in real life acted like any of the characters, they'd be laughed out of the room.
The scenarios presented were equally appallingly unbelievable (****spoiler alert****) - it's Earth's first contact with alien technology, and they've only bothered to send out a couple of grad student archeologists, and despite it being public knowledge, the press isn't bothering to cover it. Our hero gets kidnapped by advanced alien war-robots, and teaches them the stunningly advanced idea that unpredictability is an advantage in attacks (because no A.I. has ever used a random number generator before). The international secret society that controls all the money and power in the world is colluding to help a Russian coup so that Russia will become a superpower again (why?), and to do this it needs to get nanotechnology working (how does this connect?), and to get nanotechnology working, they need to get our hero to Mars (huh?). Blithering nonsense.