Two “First Contact” series you should read (and probably haven’t)

Love the hair!

A.C. Crispin’s Starbridge Series

A.C. Crispin was best known for her writings in various expanded universe areas, like the Star Wars EU (including the fantastic Han Solo Trilogy, reviewed at links here), Star Trek novels, and many, many more. She also wrote her own original series, alongside several other authors. The “Starbridge” series is perhaps her magnum opus, and it shows. There are 7 books in the series, with looser and stronger ties to each other. I’d definitely read them in order, as some characters recur and some places show up again. Crispin offers her vision for humanity’s first contact with a number of species in this fascinating series.

There are many commendable aspects of Crispin’s series. First, her featuring of several other authors alongside her own writing. I love when industry greats pay it forward. Second, each book in the series presents many unique aspects. Third, it presents a future of cooperation with others rather than constant war. And it’s not a simplistic vision either: the future will take work. Fourth, they’re all available on Audible as audiobooks! This may not excite all readers, but I love me some audiobooks and it is the same narrator throughout, so no jarring changes in tone, etc.

I’ve read the whole series and each book is good in its own way. Perhaps the greatest highlight for me was Silent Dances, which features a main character who is Native American and deaf. She’s a human being through and through and is treated as such rather than as a foil or an “issue.” These books are truly so good. That’s the way it is throughout the series, though: each character is fully formed and believable. Some aggravate, some you’ll love. Motivations seem genuine. Crispin’s talent for realizing fictional people is dazzling to witness. The series is phenomenal. Read Starbridge ASAP if you like sci-fi and especially if you love First Contact novels

This cover is awesome.

James White’s Sector General Series

James White was a prolific author, and his Sector General series is evidence for how he maintained a level of popularity throughout. Now published in a series of omnibus collections (first one here), the Sector General series introduces readers to a space hospital where any and all who come are treated of whatever illness they have.

The premise is awesome, and the execution is great, too. Some of these read like TV episodes where the main character is trying to figure out what’s killing an uncommunicative alien before it’s too late. Others focus more on some drama within the hospital itself. But they’re all interesting, and the setting is fully fleshed out. There’s even a whole classification system for alien types to help both readers and doctors figure out what the heck is happening.

White’s vision of the future is, like Crispin’s, largely positive. His Sector General series effectively offers a pacifistic hope for our future where alien and human are treated with equal dignity. It’s a great take, and works well with the central premise of the hospital. Someone I met recommended the series to me but no one has yet taken claim to being the one to do so. Unknown person, I commend you! And to you, dear readers, check out the first omnibus if you want to take a dive into a fantastic world.

Links

“Space Unicorn Blues” and “The Stars Now Unclaimed” – Two Recent Debut Science Fiction Novels Worth Noting– Come read about two exciting science fiction debuts that couldn’t be more different. Space unicorn wha?

“Gate Crashers” and “Space Opera” – Two wild first contact novels– Do you like first contact sci-fi? Here are a couple novels to look at if you like a helping of humor to go alongside it.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

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May is Expanded Sci-Fi Fantasy Month- Read all the tie-in novels

The month of May is “Expanded Sci-Fi Fantasy Month”- a month dedicated to reading all the tie-in novels for science fiction and fantasy worlds you love! I got the idea from “Vintage Sci-Fi Month” run by Little Red Reviewer. I hoping you will join me in reading related works for your favorite sci-fi/fantasy worlds. Let me know here in the comments what you’re reading, and I will try to blog about some of my own reading throughout the month.

I personally love reading expanded/tie-in sci-fi/fantasy. I have read a huge number of Star Wars novels, along with plenty of Forgotten Realms (though almost exclusively R.A. Salvatore here), Battletech, Star Trek, and Warhammer 40k novels. I read a lot and am looking forward to finally getting through a lot of the “Expanded Universe” type works I have had sitting on my shelves for a while. I hope to add to my Star Wars: Expanded Universe read-through, the next book up is Children of the Jedi, which I remember being somewhat perplexed by as a kid when I read it the first time. I also have some more Star Trek: New Frontier waiting to be read–I love this new starship and its adventures. If I manage to get through a ton of those I have some Star Trek: DS9 to read, as well. Alongside those I have a shelf full of Warhammer 40k omnibus editions I need to work through, and the two Firefly collections of graphic novels.

In other words, I’m hoping for a really busy month, and I hope you will join me for Expaned sci-fi/Fantasy month! Let me know in the comments what you’re reading!

Five for Friday: Let’s talk 5 random books! – March 15, 2019

Over at the “Little Red Reviewer,” “Redhead” has been posting a “Five for Friday” feature on five random books from her shelves to discuss and encouraging others to do so. So here, I go. Following (directly, as quoted in the link)  her rules:

The only things these books have in common are:
-they were on my bookshelf
-I’m interested in your thoughts on them

This random mix was actually what was nearest at hand on my shelf, though I was already carrying the Bonhoeffer book to bring downstairs to read.

The Secret of Dragonhome by John Peel (1998)
I got this out of a Scholastic catalog at school and adored it so, so much. It was one of the first books that truly opened my eyes to the wonders of fantasy, making me realize more lay beyond Narnia (which are, of course, excellent books). I was desperate for a sequel when I finished. To be fair, the book is basically stand-alone, but a sequel did come out in 2011. I have it sitting on my shelf, afraid to read it because I adored this book so much. I re-read it as an adult and it still enthralled me. Were you blessed by running into this novel at a young age? Anyone read the sequel?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Berlin 1932-1933 Readers of my other site will know I’m a bit of a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis. I have been reading through his collected works, trying to match them up chronologically as I go. Excited to dive in. Any other Bonhoeffer fans?

Titan, A.E.: Akima’s Story by Kevin J. Anderson (2000)
Titan, A.E. is one of my all-time favorite movies and is, in my opinion, criminally underappreciated on sci-fi lists. A few years back I learned Kevin J. Anderson wrote a couple novels in the universe to set the story, but again, have been afraid to dive in. Anyone read this prequel to the film? Enjoy it?

“S” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (2013)
Saw a coworker reading this right when it came out and thought it looked really interesting. Then, got it for a gift at Christmas out of the blue! But I’ve never managed to bite the bullet and take it up and read. The concept is what intrigues me: multiple readers scrawling notes in the margins to put together a mystery for you, the actual reader. It fascinates me. I’m curious as to others’ opinions.

The Night Lords Omnibus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
A collection of three novels and some stories from the Warhammer 40k universe. Deal with it. I love this fictional setting. It’s grimdark and awesome. I’ve only read the first novel so far and felt a little bit lukewarm about it. I’ve only heard great things from fans, though, so I may take it up again, though I probably need to re-read the first one.

Star Trek: DS9 Season 4 “Accession” and “Rules of Engagement”

Skeptical? Thoughtful? Devious? I don’t know, it’s just the first picture that popped up for the episode.

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Accession”

Synopsis

Akorem Laan, a Bajoran poet from 200 years ago, shows up out of the wormhole and claims to be the Emissary, arguing he ought to supplant Sisko. Additionally, he advocates for a return to the caste system, which would mean Bajor could not join the Federation as the Federation does not allow for any discrimination of that kind. Tensions escalate and cross-caste murder is occurred, prompting Sisko–along with a vision–to challenge Laan’s claim to be the Emissary. They go into the wormhole to ask the Prophets, who say that Sisko is the chosen Emissary and Laan’s presence was to return Sisko to his mission. Laan is returned to his own time with no memory of the events, and Bajor’s movement for the caste system is abolished once again.

Commentary

Anything involving the Prophets is weird. They just don’t seem to interact with reality the same way we do. What would be a reasonable way to remind Sisko that he is the chosen Emissary? Maybe, I don’t know, give visions to more people of him as Emissary? Send him another Kai who will affirm it? Nah, let’s shoot a poet into the future and have him try to integrate the caste system again, thus making Sisko angry enough to challenge him to a Wormhole showdown. Seems reasonable.

The prophets are just odd. I always wonder when they show up about how they chose to portray them as weird facsimiles of people that are known to the person they’re interacting with. This is supposed to be comforting but seems really creepy instead. Hey–here are all your friends and family talking to you but uttering complete nonsense or things that you don’t understand!

Anyway, the central drama of this does help build up the Bajoran culture more, too, especially with the reference to the caste system and the willingness of some to jump on board and not others. I wonder how our society might react to something similar.

Grade:  B “It is always weird to see the Prophets and try to figure out what, exactly, they are. But it’s also confusing. I like that Sisko got re-affirmed as Emissary.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “Rejecting old religious ways of dividing people in favor of new religious ways–not bad!”

“Rules of Engagement”

Synopsis

Worf is accused of destroying a transport full of Klingons, allegedly murdering more than 400 Klingons just because he thought they were another attacker. With Odo’s help, Worf is cleared of the alleged wrongdoing, as the names of those killed were the same names as those killed in an accident elsewhere. Worf is off the hook, but Sisko tells him he ought to have identified his target before attacking.

Commentary

I thought this was a strange episode. Perhaps it is intended to show how far the Klingons have fallen, but it seemed very odd for Klingons to be involved in this kind of setup. It seems dishonorable, and that’s something the Klingons care deeply about. On the flip side, they seem to have a serious dislike of Worf, who they want to get rid of desperately. I am just not sure how to reconcile it all.

I did enjoy Odo’s investigation and how he once again helps Worf. Their initial relation to each other was negative, but they’ve helped each other out–mostly Odo helping Worf. And, of course, there’s a trial type scenario in Star Trek again, which seems to be a strength of the whole franchise. Every time there’s a trial of any sort, the episode tends to be at least good if not sensational (eg. The Measure of a Man). 

Grade: B- “It feels out of character for Klingons to do this kind of subterfuge, but I enjoyed seeing the investigation.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “Basically any Worf-centered episode is good with me.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1959

I have no idea who thought this was a good cover for this book, but here we are.

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. Each year, I will show which novel won the Hugo, as well as my own choice from the bunch of which should have won. They aren’t always the same!

We Have Fed Our Sea AKA The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson- Grade: C
It’s a kind of space adventure that this period is particularly known for, but I couldn’t honestly see anything distinguishing or interesting about this particular book. It’s an inoffensive, at times entertaining romp in a thoroughly 1950s style science fiction setting. If you like that, read it. If not, it’s probably skippable.

Who? by Algis Budrys- Grade: C
A man shows up and claims to be a lost scientist, but here’s the catch: the Soviets have had him under their power for a time. Is he really who he claims to be? Can he be programmed as a spy? Yep, there’s a lot of Red Scare in this one, and the characterization and pacing isn’t all that great, but the idea of it is interesting enough. How do you know someone is someone? What makes you you? Those are the kind of questions that are explored, with however blunt an instrument, in this book.

A Case of Conscience by James Blish (Winner)- Grade: B
I find Blish’s writing style to be a bit impenetrable for my taste. It’s like reading something through a fog. I don’t know how else to describe it. In this work, we have one of the few forays into religious questions found in this era of science fiction. How can an alien race without religion be moral? The Jesuit priest in this book asks that question and ultimately doesn’t really get an answer, leading to some spectacular difficulties in the process. Reading the book, though, is like wading through mud. I enjoyed the ideas, but had difficulty understanding the writing.

Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: C
Younger Heinlein is in top form here, which means you get his action with much less of his preaching at you about how we should all have sex all the time. Unfortunately, this early Heinlein is not as talented as some of the later Heinlein turned out to be, though I think Heinlein’s works are kind of a roller-coaster of quality. Anyhow, this one is basically just a coming of age story with a spacesuit. If that sounds interesting, you’ll probably like it well enough.

Time Killer AKA Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley (My Winner)- Grade: B+
The premise initially seemed pretty standard–a man gets sucked into the future without any knowledge of what’s happening to him. But as the story developed, the intricacies Sheckley adds, layer by layer, to the plot and premise makes the book feel more and more special. Exploring what would happen if there were a scientifically verifiable afterlife was an unexpected pleasure, as was the way Sheckley deftly danced around questions of the mind-body problem, religion, and more. None of it seemed heavy-handed, which is what I was expecting once I got a feel for what was happening in the book. Instead, it was a unique look at one of sci-fi’s tropes- transhumanism/immortality. It also had a couple compelling characters, which isn’t always the case in some of the classic sci-fi. I recommend this one, folks.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

My Read-Through of the Hugos- Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

A Stunning Epic – “Empire of Silence” by Christopher Ruocchio

A friend recommended I read Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio. I’m a sucker for science fiction, and I knew this friend had great taste, so I went and got it almost immediately. I was blown away as I devoured it over the next four days. I’ll avoid SPOILERS in what follows, because I just want to encourage you, dear readers, to go grab this book ASAP and read it.

The novel is told by Hadrian Marlowe looking back on his own life. It’s a kind of memoir/autobiographical storytelling style that I personally find captivating. It goes beyond a simple first person perspective by inserting “historical” notes into the text as you’re reading, casually dropping bits of world-building and storytelling into the main narrative. In this regard it reminds me of Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson, though that overlooked masterpiece probably won’t ring many bells. Anyway, the first person style is usually offputting to me, though I have enjoyed my share of first person perspective novels. For those who enjoy their sci-fi/fantasy in epic style, the first person narrative here doesn’t take away from that in any way.

Again, I’m really hesitant to spoil anything, so to introduce the plot I’ll just tell you what Hadrian himself tells you at the beginning. Hadrian is a man that would be reviled for killing a sun, and all those around it. He is writing from a point well in the future of where this novel begins, telling we readers the “real story” of what actually happened to get him to the reviled hero he is. Along the way, we learn much of Hadrian’s life, motivations, and meet many, many characters, each with unique personalities and contributions to Hadrian’s capacities and actions.

There’s a wealth of sci-fi greats I could see as inspiring Ruocchio’s book. The world building and writing style made me think of Iain M. Banks. The epic scale of the universe could only recall Dune. There’s a splash of Star Wars there, too, though only in the sense of the rise of a hero (anti-hero?) character. I’d be remiss to mention some aspects of the film Gladiator getting mixed in, too. And, for what it’s worth, I really got strong vibes from Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series mixed in, too.

If this seems like a grab-bag of awesome things, I’d like to downplay that a bit. Ruocchio has undoubtedly created his own style and carved out his section of the sci-fi universe. If it is reminiscent of all of these other awesome novels, that’s not because it is derivative. The richness of the narrative cannot really be overstated here. There are times the scale seems incredibly huge, but the reader is never left adrift because the narrative ties us down to Hadrian’s life and perspective, giving us a way to navigate the huge universe. As even more elements pile onto the plot–notably linguistics and archaeology coming into play–Ruocchio manages to balance all these elements and weave them into a deeply personal narrative that turns Hadrian into a fascinating, real character.

Perhaps most importantly for a novel like this–a near 600 page epic–is that although it is part of a larger series (according to a Tweet from the author after I asked him, it will span 4 books along with potential side stories), it has a satisfying ending. Readers won’t feel cheated or baited by the end. Instead, they’ll be lining up to get the next book, knowing how excellent this one was. Hadrian’s concluding lines in the book help to make it feel, truly, like the first volume of an immense memoir.

Without a doubt, Christopher Ruocchio has created a fantastic universe to explore. Empire of Silence is a superb space opera on an epic scale. I recommend it very, very highly. What we are seeing with this book is, I think–as does my friend who recommend it–the rise of a new genre master.

Links

“Space Unicorn Blues” and “The Stars Now Unclaimed” – Two Recent Debut Science Fiction Novels Worth Noting– Come read about two exciting science fiction debuts that couldn’t be more different. Space unicorn wha?

“Gate Crashers” and “Space Opera” – Two wild first contact novels– Do you like first contact sci-fi? Here are a couple novels to look at if you like a helping of humor to go alongside it.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“Gate Crashers” and “Space Opera” – Two wild first contact novels

I quite enjoyed sharing my last couple reads of debut novels with you (Space Unicorn Blues and The Stars Now Unclaimed) and figured I’d keep doing some of these little book posts. Here, I want to review two humorous first contact novels I read recently.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

I love space opera. It is perhaps my favorite subgenre of science fiction, and I read a ton of science fiction. When I saw a book entitled simply, “Space Opera,” I was intrigued. When I saw the cover and the tagline “In space, everyone can hear you sing,” I put it on the “to read” pile for when I was ready for what I assumed would be a funny romp.

I wasn’t wrong. Catherynne M. Valente is clearly a talented author, and her humor is cut from the same cloth as Douglas Adams. At multiple points, I was reminded quite vividly of Adams’ writing, but never in a derivative way. Valente has her own brand of dry humor that will make you laugh, really laugh at life. Yeah, life–in the all-encompassing everything that is alive now kind of way.

The plot is zany: humans are contacted by some species and told we can produce our best talent to compete in a universe-wide talent show and not lose or be killed. So a washed up pseudo one-hit-wonder type of band gets brought back together to show the galaxy what-for. It’s ridiculous but it somehow works. It’s full of what would almost certainly be anachronisms and occasionally stilted dialogue, but by gum it still works. Valente basically wills this novel into being in a way that feels fresh and frankly hilarious throughout. You care about the characters more than some of them perhaps deserve, and the aliens introduced are interesting. But what makes it tick, again, is Valente’s almost casual wielding of humor that never gets in the way.

Space Opera is perhaps a little bit too over the top at times, but Valente cashes in on a wildly funny premise, fills it to the brims with wit, and brought me laughing to a satisfying finish. Readers who enjoy Douglas Adams should run to get it.

Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson

What if we are totally incompetent when it comes to contact with other species? What if they were just as confused by us as we were by them? What if we found out they were trying to just ignore us? Tomlinson touches on all these questions and stirs in a helping of humor in his intriguing Gate Crashers, a rare self-contained space opera/first contact novel that hits back at several tropes.

The book is ultimately more serious than you might be lead to expect by the extended introduction. There is a lot of depth here, and readers hoping for a simple laugh riot may be disappointed by a lengthy middle portion introducing many side characters and much exposition. But it is this central portion that sets up for a rather satisfying conclusion that Tomlinson deftly handles in a way that doesn’t disappoint.

Gate Crashers is an entertaining read, though at times I wondered what the central theme or motivation is. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time spent in this jaunt. I recommend it for people who think C.J. Cherryh needs more humor and less verbosity (I don’t know why Cherryh came to mind, as Gate Crashers only tangentially reminds me of her work, but that’s where I’m at as I type this up).

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.