Out of the Dark by David Weber (2010)

February 15, 2012 at 10:17 am (military SF, science fiction, WTF?)

I don’t usually spoiler books in my reviews, but this was published way back in 2010, and it is pretty much impossible to express myself on the subject of this book without talking about the surprise ending.  You have been warned.

Near-future alien invasions have been done before, and this one even includes a reference to Independence Day‘s use of over-used SF tropes.  It does not, however, mention the common trope of the special-snowflake status of the USA being extended (with a prominent US role, of course) to the whole human race – that would be the narrative undermining itself.  These types of books pretty much all do that, though I think if I tried I could probably find examples that buck the trend.

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about.  It isn’t the lengthy, loving descriptions of arms and armament that I want to talk about either, although the book probably would’ve been 30 pages shorter if those have been trimmed.  Weber’s tendency to include long disquisitions about politics is also on display from time to time, as well.

But no, what I wanted to talk about is vampires.

See, in the last few chapters it turns out that a vampire is unalive and well and still living in the mountains of Romania.  Yes, that vampire.  And he’s not happy about aliens destroying most of the major cities on the planet (and a lot of the minor ones) through kinetic bombardment.  He’s even less happy when the aliens (they’re called Shongairi, by the way) unwittingly decide to pick the wrong villages to collect experimental subjects from – villages he’s taken up the burden of protecting.

Yeah, so.  Vampires save the human race from alien invasion.  I suppose you could say this undermines the typical special-human-snowflwake alien invasion story trope, but then you probably haven’t actually read the book.  I have, and it doesn’t.  The epilogue is titled “Year 1 of the Terran Empire.”

In an era of Jane Austen and zombies and Abraham Lincoln as a vampire-hunter, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  But I still think Weber wrote up the proposal on a bet, and then got stuck with writing it when it actually sold.  I mean, he’s got to make a living, even with the Honor Harrington series still doing so well.

But.  Still.  Umm.  I mean, really???


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July 2011 wrap-up

July 31, 2011 at 11:17 pm (military SF, mystery, Nonfiction - history, science fiction)

Not especially to my surprise, I’ve fallen behind on reviewing the books I’ve read this month.  So here’s a quick summary of the ones I haven’t managed to write a full review of:

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (2008).  I’m not an unreserved Scalzi fan overall, but I enjoy his work.  This one is interesting – a parallel version of events in The Last Colony, explaining a bunch of things that happened from the perspective of Zoë, teenage adopted daughter of the heroes of the other “Old Man’s War” series.  It holds together quite well as an independent novel, though.  A lot of it revolves around Zoë’s peculiar relationship with the alien Obin – those who’ve actually read all the Old Man’s War series (which I found I hadn’t, actually) will know what I mean, and those who haven’t should get to enjoy the reveal.  Zoë is a really engaging first-person narrator, the personal and political events are very well done, and I recommend the book.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1819).  This concludes my reading of Austen.  She takes a noticeably different approach here, trying to directly undermine the conventions of the novel (the first line is “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine”).   More interesting is the portrayal of two (or perhaps three) fundamentally dishonest people, and how difficult they can make the lives of the honest and straightforward.  There are also bits about the danger of letting one’s imagination run away with one.  And of course a happy ending.  Certainly worth reading.

Buttons and Bones by Monica Ferris (2010).  This is one of the cozy mystery series I’ve been following, courtesy of the public library – my goodness, this is the 14th “Needlecraft Mystery.”  Anyway, the conceit is that Betsy Devonshire owns a needlework shop in a small Minnesota town, and has a knack for solving mysteries.  Not all of the series hits the mark, in my opinion, but this one definitely passes it.  Maybe I’m biased because it has a significant historical element – the mystery is about something that happened during or after World War II – but I think it holds together very nicely, and the needlework element was, umm, woven in particularly well.  Though I did figure out what happened before the characters did, which I rarely manage to do.

Planet of Twilight by Barbara Hambly (1997).  My son picked up this Star War tie-in from the library, and I grabbed it one day when I was looking for a bit of light reading.  Boy, was that a mistake: this is serious stuff, even grim and depressing.  And very well written, not that I’d expect less out of Hambly; I’ve read at least one really bad Star Wars tie-in novel, and probably would’ve ignored this one if it hadn’t had Hambly’s name on it.  Anyway, it’s a fairly involved mystery-type plot revolving around exactly what Seti Ashgad is up to, and what is going on in a nearly lifeless world called Renat Chorios.  There is also plague, nasty alien life forms, intrigue, etc.  And like I said, kind of depressing, but a good book.

The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy by David Stuart (1988).  A bit of nonfiction I picked up at the flea market a while back and have been slowly going through.  I wouldn’t call it a valuable reference book by any stretch of the imagination; it’s a rather rambling narrative, with only a few shallow attempts at real historical analysis.  But it was interesting, if one is interested in historical gardening (which I am, to a certain extent). 

Extremis by Steve White and Charles E. Gannon (2011).  Another library book – military SF, this time.  I think I may have read one of the earlier books in this “Starfire” series; at least, the life circumstances of one of the human characters seem familiar.  At any rate, the novel revolves around the conflict between alien refugees (their star went nova) and the humans who already colonized the plant they’ve arrived at.  Communication between the two is hampered by the fact that the aliens have an empathic/telepathic form of communication rather than a verbal one, and interstellar war is the result.  There is some good character work going on here, particularly with the aliens; the parallels between the two sides’ political situation are perhaps a little too obvious, but didn’t break it for me.  And there were some really good space battles, triumph and heroism, that sort of thing.  Not bad work at all.

This month I also re-read three Mercedes Lackey novels – one of them because it’s set almost entirely in cold winter circumstances (there was a major heat wave).  So, that’s a total of 13 new-to-me books read this month, plus three re-reads.

Yes, I read a lot.  That’s what the point of this month of reviews was supposed to be!  It’s no wonder I can’t find the time to fully review them all.

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Citadel by John Ringo (2011)

April 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm (military SF, science fiction)

So I peered into the Bag o’ Library Books and noticed the new John Ringo that I’d passed up a few minutes before.  I looked at my spouse:  “You got the John Ringo?”

“Sure,” he said.  “Why not?”

“I’ve read some of his stuff.  It has … explosions.”

He laughed, and I laughed, and later on I read the book, because sometimes explosions are just what a person’s in the mood for.

Actually, you have to wait a while for the explosions in this one, but they do turn up.  This book is a big chewy lump of Golden Age style military SF, with the added bonus of modern gender roles.

Squid-like hostile aliens?  Check.

High-tech friendly/neutral aliens?  Check.  (I think these guys are furry, but I’m not sure; Ringo forgot to describe them for those of us arriving late to the party.)

Lizard-like hostile aliens?  Check.

Key role played by a major techno-entrepreneur?  Check.

U.S.A. leads the way?  Check.

Major world cities bombed into oblivion?  Check.  (Actually, it seems that most of this happened in the first volume, called … wait for it … Live Free or Die, but there is some).

Imported alien technology including artificial gravity, working artificial intelligence, fabricators, and instantaneous travel-gates?  Check, check, check, check.

Humans adapt to and improve on all this incredibly (from alien perspective) fast?  Check.

Gigantic battle station built into an asteroid?  Check.

Human society incomprehensible to aliens?  Check.

Oh, and I almost forgot the huge solar mining/defense system.  Heh.

Mostly, the story follows the rising careers of (1) a brand-new (and highly talented) female Navy engineer/pilot, and (2) a brand-new (and highly talented) male space construction worker.  For plot-following purposes, there are jumps to the points of view of the lizardly aliens, the technological tycoon, and the President of the US.

If you’ve been reading SF for longer than five years, you have read this book before – possibly several times.  This iteration is pretty fun, though.  And there’s noticeably more room for characters in this one, than in some of Ringo’s other work that I’ve read.

I have one complaint about the worldbuilding, though.  Apparently one of the things that happened during or before Live Free or Die was a series of plagues inflicted on the Earth by the enemy.  One of them, either deliberately or as an unanticipated side effect, apparently has the effect of revving up female libido to at least equivalent to that of hormonally-afflicted teenage males.  For some reason, it appears that birth control doesn’t work on them any more, either (unless that’s an oversight by the author … I don’t know, the explanation’s in the earlier book, it seems).   This is seriously weird, and I’m baffled as to why the author thought it was a good idea.  [ETA:  Now that I’ve read Live Free or Die, it makes sense from the enemy’s twisted point of view.]

ALSO, this affliction, and the resultant permanent state of pregnancy/childrearing, appears to be strongly biased toward blonde white women.   So where, I want to know, are all the brown and black American women who would be moving into the vacuum?  All we seem to see are white women who are “of course” pregnant, and white women who are in the military and have had the disease cured.

And why hasn’t the disease been cured across the whole population, I’d like to know?  They can build all this marvelous tech but can’t clean up the genome of the population?  Maybe that’s all in the first book, but it still doesn’t explain why after 17 years the Navy and civilian sides are not crammed with those black and brown women.  [ETA: Yes, the shortage of cure is explained in the first book; they’re working on it, but it takes time.   Still no explanation for the main problem, though.]

But, that aside, it’s a good old-fashioned space navy romp, and there are non-white characters; just not any major point-of-view ones.  And not enough female ones.

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