Archive

Posts Tagged ‘outer space’

Book Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

November 6, 2015 3 comments

Book Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philp K. DickSummary:
Earth is overcrowded and overheated but people still don’t want to become colonists to other planets.  The colonies on the other planets are so boring and depressing that the colonists spend all of their money on Can-D — a drug that lets them imagine themselves living in an idealistic version of Earth.  The only trick is they have to set up dioramas of Earth first.  The drug is illegal on Earth but the diorama parts are still created by a company there.  When the famous Palmer Eldritch returns from the far-flung reaches of space, he brings with him a new drug, Chew-Z, that doesn’t require the dioramas.  What the people don’t know, but one of the manager of the Can-D company soon finds out, is that Chew-Z sends those who take it into an alternate illusion controlled by Palmer Eldritch.

Review:
I love Philip K. Dick, and I have since first reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? So whenever I see his books come up on sale in ebook format, I snatch them up.  I picked this up a while ago for this reason, and then randomly selected it as my airplane read on my honeymoon.  Like many Dick novels the world of this book is insane, difficult to explain, and yet fun to visit and thought-provoking.

The world Dick has imagined is hilarious, although I’m not sure it was intended to be.  Presciently, Dick sets up a future suffering from overpopulation and global warming, given that this was published in 1965, I find it particularly interesting that his mind went to a planet that gets too hot.  Even though the planet is unbearably warm (people can only go outside at night and dusk/dawn), they still don’t want to colonize other planets.  Colonizing the other planets is just that bad.  So there’s a selective service by the UN, only instead of soldiers, those randomly selected are sent to be colonists.  The wealthy can generally get out of it by faking mental illness, as the mentally ill can’t be sent away.  This particular aspect of the book definitely reflects its era, as the 1960s was when the Vietnam War draft was so controversially going on.

I don’t think it’s going out on much a limb to say that drugs had a heavy influence on this book.  Much of the plot centers around two warring drugs, and how altered perceptions of reality impact our real lives.  One of the main characters starts out on Earth hearing about how the poor colonists have such a depressing environment that they have to turn to drugs to keep from committing suicide.  But when he later is sent to Mars himself as a colonists, his impression is that in fact the colony is this downtrodden because no one tries very hard because they’re so much more focused on getting their next hit of Can-D.  The Can-D has caused the lack of success on the planet, not the other way around.  Whether or not he is accurate in this impression is left up to the reader.

Then of course there’s the much more major plot revolving around the new drug, Chew-Z.  Without giving too much away, people think Chew-Z is a much better alternative to Can-D, but it turns out chewing it puts you under the control of Palmer Eldritch for the duration of your high, and if you overdose, you lose the ability to tell the difference between illusion and reality.  The main character (and others who help him) thus must try to convince the humans that Chew-Z is bad for them before they ever even chew it.  The main character has another side mission of getting people off of Can-D.

It sounds like a very anti-drugs book when summarized this way, but it felt like much more than that.  People chewing Chew-Z can come to have an experience that sounds religious – seeing the three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (a stigmata in Christian tradition is when God shows his favor on someone by giving them the marks of Jesus’ crucifixion.  In this book, the three stigmata are three bodily aspects of Palmer that are unique to him).  However, the experience of seeing the stigmata is in fact terrifying, not enlightening.  The drugs thus represent more than drugs. They represent the idea that we could possibly know exactly what a higher power is thinking, and perhaps that it might be better to just go along as best we can, guessing, rather than asserting certainty.

All of this said, a few weaknesses of the 1960s are seen.  I can’t recall a non-white character off the top of my head.  Women characters exist, thank goodness, but they’re all secondary to the male ones, and they are divided pretty clearly into the virgin/whore dichotomy.  They are either self-centered, back-stabbing career women, or a demure missionary, or a stay-at-home wife who makes pots and does whatever her husband asks.  For the 1960s, this isn’t too bad. Women in the future are at least acknowledged and most of them work, but characterizations like this still do interfere with my ability to be able to 100% enjoy the read.  Also, let’s not forget the Nazi-like German scientist conducting experiments he probably shouldn’t.  For a book so forward-thinking on things like colonizing Mars and the weather, these remnants of its own time period were a bit disappointing.

Overall, though, this is a complex book that deals with human perception and ability.  Are we alone in space? Can we ever really be certain that what we are seeing is in fact reality? How do we live a good life? Is escapism ever justified? Is there a higher power and if there is how can we ever really know what they want from us?  A lot of big questions are asked but in the context of a mad-cap, drug-fueled dash around a scifi future full of an overheated planet and downtrodden Mars colonies.  It’s fun and thought-provoking in the best way possible.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Buy It

Book Review: Preserver by William Shatner, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by William Shatner)

February 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: Preserver by William Shatner, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by William Shatner)Summary:
Captain Kirk and his nemesis from the mirror universe, Tiberius Kirk, pair up to hunt down the preservers, orbs left by some more intelligent race.  Kirk is teaming up with Tiberius because Tiberius holds the key to saving his wife’s and unborn son’s lives.  Their quest will reveal hidden secrets about the universe.

Review:
This is the second audiobook my fiancé and I listened to on our road trip to and from Michigan.  We listened to the previous book in the series, Dark Victory (review), on the drive out.  We listened to this one on the drive back.  (Each direction is a 13 hour drive).  Whereas the previous book kept us entertained and awake for our road trip, this one left us confused and concerned we might actually be drifting off into sleep periodically, because it made so little sense.  (For the record, we were not drifting off into sleep. This book just makes very little sense).

All of the audiobook qualities that were great about the previous book stay great here.  Shatner’s narration alternates between hilariously good and hilariously bad but mostly is just hilariously Shatner.  The sound effects continue to be stellar and one of my favorite parts of the book.  It continues to feel like listening to a Star Trek movie as a radio show, and that it was kept me going through it.

The plot, however, just makes very little sense and seems to fall apart.  Whereas in the previous book a continuing plot point is Shatner’s ruined hands, in this one it’s Shatner’s unborn (and then born) son who is all kinds of genetically messed up thanks to the poison in his mother’s system from the cloned children of Tiberius.  (Are you confused yet?)  This could possibly make for an interesting plot, but it’s dropped frequently to pursue the other plot about the preserver orb things.  We read this book and both fiancé and I are still unclear as to precisely what the orbs mean.  We’re not even sure if they’re good or bad.  This is how confusing the plot is, I can’t even properly sum it up for you folks.  In spite of the plot being really confusing, there are still some fun scenes, such as when Kirk meets his son for the first time.  It’s a short audiobook, so I’m not unhappy I listened to it, even if I mostly only understood the Kirk’s son plot.

Overall, while this provides very little clear closure to the plot point set up earlier in the trilogy, it does feature the birth of Kirk’s son and all the fun of listening to a radio show version of a Star Trek movie.  If you liked the previous books in the trilogy and don’t mind a confusing plot, you’ll enjoy finishing up the trilogy.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
Spectre
Dark Victory, review

Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (Series, #1)

September 12, 2014 3 comments

A line of spaceships head toward a planet.Summary:
John Perry joined the Colonial Defense Force on his 75th birthday.  Americans aren’t allowed to be colonists in outer space, but they can defend the colonies in the outer space army.  Old folks join for many reasons from boredom to having always wanted to see outer space, even though details of what goes on out there are kept secret from Earth.  In spite of all the secrecy, the rumor is that those who join the CDF get to be young again, and who wouldn’t want a second chance at life?

Review:
Multiple friends have read this book and loved it, and of course I found the idea intriguing, who wouldn’t?  So when a friend offered to loan me his copy, I took him up on it right away.  I was not disappointed in the world Scalzi has created, it is endlessly fascinating, but the main character’s arc failed to be quite so interesting to me.

I can’t imagine how anyone would not find the basic premise of this book interesting.  Outer space colonies that are kept a mystery from Earth.  Only certain countries allowed to colonize (primarily those suffering from population overload). Top it off with a colonial army made entirely up of old people who supposedly get to be young again?  Completely. Fascinating.  And Scalzi really comes through on the science of all of this, the politics, and manages to have some surprises in there, in spite of the what seems to be very straight-forward book summary.  And the world beyond the soldiers and the colonists is utterly fascinating as well.  The aliens are incredibly creatively imagined, not just in their looks but in their cultures.  They feel real.  And that extends to the battles and spaceships as well.  The worldbuilding here is phenomenal.  It is an example of how scifi worlds should be built.

The main character, though, as well as his character development arc, fail to live up to the incredible worldbuilding.  John Perry, from early on, is talented at war, in spite of having only been an advertising slogan writer for his whole life.  He has no real life experience that would make one think he would be good at war. Additionally, even when he is doing battle, he’s kind of flat on the page.  He doesn’t jump off as the leader he supposedly is supposed to naturally be.  Other characters feel that way, but not John.  In fact, I frequently found myself far more interested in the secondary characters around John than in John himself.  I was willing to give this a bit of a pass since, well, the character has to live for us to continue to see the wars he’s fighting, and maybe Scalzi has a thing for unlikely heroes.  But his character arc takes an odd turn at the end that really bothered me.

*spoiler warning*
John meets a special forces woman who is in his dead wife’s body.  Basically, his dead wife’s DNA was used as a base to build a genetically enhanced body. Ok, I’m fine with that, even if it seems unnecessary. But then John becomes obsessed with her, and she with him, even though she is very clearly NOT his wife.  Then at the end, he asks her to move to a colonial farm with him when they retire. And she says yes. Whaaaaat?! This isn’t romance; this is gross! The special forces woman has as much in common with John’s wife as her sister would at this point, since they have messed with the DNA so much.  This is like John pursuing his dead wife’s sister, who is emotionally only 6, since she was put into a fully adult body 6 years ago and had no life prior to that.  It’s gross. It is not romantic.  And I really think the reader is supposed to see it as romantic, when instead it squicked me out far more than any of the aliens in the book, including the ones with slimy appendages or the ones who eat humans.
*end spoilers*

Overall, this is an utterly fascinating scifi world with a bit of a ho-hum main character.  The ending may disappoint some readers, and Scalzi’s politics can come through a bit obviously sometimes.  However, those at all intrigued by the plot summary or interested in high quality scifi world building should check it out.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

Buy It

Book Review: Tundra 37 by Aubrie Dionne (Series, #2)

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Man and woman holding each other in front of a spaceship.Summary:
Gemme is the Matchmaker for her generation on board the Expedition a spaceship that has been headed toward Paradise 18 for hundreds of years and multiple generations in the hopes of saving humanity from extinction due to the failure of Earth.  The ship is driven by a pair of seers–twins from Old Earth who have been kept alive an abnormally long amount of time by being hooked up to machines and virtually made part of the ship.  The seers make a mistake for the first time in hundreds of years and end up in a meteor shower and having to crash-land on the barely inhabitable ice planet Tundra 37.  Gemme finds herself reassigned from Matchmaker to the exploratory team Alpha Blue with the hunky Lieutenant that the computer system matched her with just before blowing off into space during the meteor shower.  Can she land the hunk without anyone knowing about the match?  And will the colonists manage to survive Tundra 37?

Review:
Although this is the second book in the series, which I didn’t realize at first, it appears that each book follows a different spaceship that left Earth, so I really do not think it’s necessary to read them in order.  I didn’t feel like I was missing anything, for instance.

It’s been a while since I read a book this bad that came from a publishing house, but it does happen.  This is part of why I firmly believe it shouldn’t matter if a work is self-published or indie published or traditionally published.  Bad books happen everywhere.  Although it definitely is more baffling when something like this slips through a publishing house.  (Then again, Twilight happened…..)

There is just so much wrong with this book.  The characters struggle in this odd land between one-dimensional and three-dimensional.  They’re two-dimensional?  The structure itself is odd.  We jump around at illogical points between Gemme/Lieutenant, the Seers’ lives on Old Earth, and the little crippled girl on the ship, Vira.  I’d just get interested, finally, in one of the plots and then get yanked over to another one, only to have it happen all over again.  Actually, the Seers’ lives are interesting and unique.  I wish Dionne had simply told their story and ignored the total snoozefest that is the love interest between Gemme and the Lieutenant.  These are all moderately minor things though that I could still see another reader enjoying, if it weren’t for the things that make zero fucking sense.  There’s so many of them, I’m just gonna go ahead and bullet-point them for ya’ll.

  • When the ship first crash-lands, the Seers (telekinetic, all-knowing types) announce that they have enough fuel to keep everyone warm and everything running for three months.  Mysteriously, this number changes to three days without any explanation.
  • Seriously, how could one person’s entire career be matchmaking one generation that fits on-board a space-ship? Plus, all she does is double-check the matches the computer sets up.  This could be done in a day or two.  A week at the most.
  • NOBODY noticed little Vira’s telekinetic powers before now? Puhleeze.
  • Supposedly the Seers’ eggs have been randomly implanted into random women for all the generations on-board the ship in the hopes of getting another Seer.  Nobody knows this except the Matchmakers.  Fact: The Seers are African-American.  Double-fact: It appears almost everyone else on-board the ship is white. And you expect me to believe nobody noticed the random inter-racial babies popping up?! When these people mate for life? Apparently the facts of genetics that are so important to these people are completely unnoticed when it comes to race. HUH

As if these inconsistencies were not enough, there’s also the fact that Dionne simply tries to do too much throughout the book.  Among the ideas and storylines going in this rather short book (thank god), we’ve got:

  • People reliving their past lives in their dreams.
  • Soulmates from past lives finding each other.
  • The humans’ attempts to survive on Tundra 37.
  • The explanation of how this ship got in the air in the first place.
  • One seer’s love story.
  • The story of the seers’ relationship with each other on Old Earth.
  • How Old Earth went to hell.
  • Vira being telekinetic and hiding it.
  • An “evil entity” on board the ship.
  • The mysterious orb.
  • The mysterious beacon.
  • The Gemme/Lieutenant/Luna love triangle (wtf is with the love triangles in romance novels?!)

Basically, the problem is, you can either tell the story of the Seers’ lives or the story of the colonist’s lives on Tundra 37.  You can’t really do both.  It’s confusing and jarring and seriously that orb/beacon thing was totally unnecessary for either one.  This is honestly an understandable problem.  Authors sometimes get too much going at once.  But how it made it through editing and to publication in this format is beyond me.  Could it be a typical outerspace, clean romance?  (There is no sex).  Sure!  Is it the way it is now?  Hell no!  How it is now is a confusing mess that’s simply exhausting to read.  Not what your typical romance reader is looking for or, really, any reader for that matter.  Definitely give this one a pass. 

2 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
Paradise 21