Orbital Decay by Allen Steele - a review

This is the first novel of Allen Steele I have read. Previously I enjoyed his short stories - like "Emperor of Mars" presented in Starship sofa. Orbital Decay is an older book, written in the eighties, when space exploration steel held a promise. There are some lovely anachronisms here and there but not too much. Yet, the MacGuffin - the centerpiece around which plot was constructed has a very current resonance. Orbital Decay is a good, simple story of simple men working in space. It sets up a a theme of rising conflict between new frontier that has to confront the big brother state. What is so unique about the book is that heroes are no Astronauts but everyday Joe's - space plumbers (really a construction workers called beamjacks). This is somewhat uncommon, and I respect and admire an author who can put a perspective on what is so common in SF - Great men doing great deeds. Here they are the bad guys, and a common man prevails.
Orbital decay is a work of someone who clearly loves the SF genre, so references to books, authors and whole SF culture are abound.
The story develops rather slowly, focusing on different aspects of life in space (mostly boredom). This is shown through the eyes of few people living in the "Olympus" space station. The conclusion was well worth going through the slow parts. A hard SF with a bit of poetic ending and a story of redemption. I certainly am glad I picked this book up.
And a little spoiler - the most awesome reentry ever!


Buffo Blombergi - przygody w Ekwadorze

Zbiór esejów Rolfa Blomberga - szwedzkiego podróżnika, przyrodnika i filmowca. Książka stanowi zbiór esejów poświęconych wyprawom tropem dzikich i bezwzględnych Indian Auca, spotań z łowcami głów - indianami Jibarro, opowieści o dzikich zwierzętach Ameryki Południowej, Galapagoa, ale i wężach Borneo. Czyta się szybko. Ciekawa książka z czasów kiedy panowały nieco inne normy obyczajowe - widać jednak postęowość autora, troskę o przyszłośc indiańskich plemion i zagrożonych gatunków. Przeczytałem ją nieco przypadkowo, ale nie żałuję.


Review of "Moonseed" by Stephen Baxter

Not as breathtaking as Titan by the same author, but interesting nevertheless. Humanity brings doom upon itself by bringing a nano-technological gray goo from the Moon that slowly devours the Earth. This is a sad story where there is a very little hope. The first part is especially poignant - destruction of Edinburgh, misery and human stupidity. The interesting thing in Baxter's books is that his characters are full of flaws - not really typical heroes of SF but very much humans troubled by issues. The book is full of technical details regarding space exploration and geology. Large info-dumps are perhaps a nuisance to some but I enjoy them and Baxter certainly makes the subject interesting.
Some issues I had with the book: one particular character behaves in a very unbelievable way - I am taking about a teenager rascal turn into Space Religion Guru, secondly I feel that whole shtick in the end with main character convincing US to give him a nuke, no question asked - that rises some doubts - I understand that it was necessary for a big surprise in the end but still.
In the end - not my favorite Hard SF but certainly memorable. I think I will further my interest into Mr. Baxter's works.


Beneath sands of Egypt by Donald P. Ryan

This book landed in my lap due to interview with the author that I listened to in Groks Science Podcast. I found it interesting and since I want to widen my education and learn something that I can use in GMing roleplaying games (notably Trail of Cthulhu) - I decided to give it a shot. It is a short book dealing with the subject in a rather dry but entertaining manner. I like the fact that it mixes description of history of archeology, descriptions of working procedure and such matters with personal observations on academic world, Egypt and life of scientist in this rather small and competitive field. Although it is not something that will teach you a great deal about Egyptology or history - it will definitely pique your interest in this subject - so much more interesting that clichés from Indiana Jones movies.

The Chronicles of Amber

I have read tomes 1-5 so far. I have mixed feeling toward this book. As it happens I was reading it during first two months of being a father - so I could not put so much attention to the reading experience as I would like. The story is gripping from the start but descriptions of journeys through the shadow worlds are somewhat tiring. On the positive side the five tomes of Corwin story describe a magnificent intrigue which is resolved by the end of the fifth tome. I think, I should probably read it again - my rating is given from the point of view of chronically under slept guy. I have a lot of respect toward Roger Zelazny - and this book is worth reading. Nevertheless I will postpone reading story of Merlin until I have more time.


Gust Front - kicking the horses' ass

A second tome of Posleen series written by John Ringo. It deals with probing force of Posleen horde attacking the Earth - more precisely United States and the military response to it. This is certainly not a great literature - and it does not pretend to be such. On the other hand, Gust Front is a terrific piece of military science fiction/technothriller written by a soldier. The writing is clean and dry, with long description of military tactics and hardware. The story is presented through a wide array of characters – mostly military types with little characterization or character development. I must admit that I was at loss frequently at who is who – chapters are short and locations and characters are changing with a wild pace. The first part of the book deals with preparation to the upcoming invasion – story is slow and concentrates on issues of military units organization and backstabbing among military “Brass” on how the war should be conducted. In a typical way traditionalist believe that might of US Army is enough to crush the invaders even if they sport superior technology. It is a really cool aspect of the story – how the military reacts to the new type of threats and repeats the blunders that occurred each time in the history when more progressive force was attacking one with traditional attitude. Here the military problem is bit ironic – Posleens are masters of Blitzkrieg and Humanity cannot fight a mobile war against them – the proper “modern” response is to fight them using cities as fortresses and attitudes more akin to those presented by generals of World War I.
I felt a little bit tired by the pre invasion part – not too much though. Ringo took a chance to talk a little bit about societal changes imposed by the external threat and I really enjoyed short excursion of the main character cpt. Michel O'Neal to the Florida. Still I have never been to military so the descriptions of problems within military structure left me somewhat confused.
Then the invasion starts and action accelerates to a neck-breaking pace. This part is pure carnage – descriptions of heroic fight, amazing acts of cowardice, sacrifice, stupidity. I have never participated in war and I hope I never have to, but strangely this fictional descriptions feel very real. It is a conflict shown through the eyes of the soldiers – those fully aware that they have to sacrifice their life to protect their homeland. At times touching, at times infuriating. Still – it did not left me indifferent.
I wish there was, perhaps, more character development and more Posleen side of view. Still – characters die like flies, so it feels somewhat fitting.
There are some things that I feel are sub-par – Ringo lays pipe for the future books and hints at secret plots within Federation that on the face of it, supports Humankind. It piques my interest but it never develops in something more than hints. Also, there are some ridiculously unbelievable moments – mainly having to do with 8 year old commando girl Cally. Still, given that in the future she will become master assassin, perhaps it is understandable.
Finally – book is not really ending with a cliffhanger – there will be full scale invasion but main characters stories are for now resolved. I cannot imagine though not picking another tome of Posleen series in the future. I am sucker for military SF. At risk of sounding obvious if you are not into this sort of the things you probably give Gust Front a wide berth. Otherwise “Let their yellow blood run cold...”


A bunch of gaming reviews

Here are my thoughts on couple of RPG materials that I have been reading recently:
GURPS: Espionage - I cannot recommend this book enough. GURPS indeed deserves it's reputation of having well researched materials in a form that can be used for gaming. This particular gem allows putting espionage, counterintelligence and different covert ops in your campaign. Not only it contains usual assortment of gadgets, character templates and such but also incredible amount of real histories of spy rings and operations. I love the section describing different espionage operations and the discussion how you can you can introduce espionage into different campaigns. Again, this being GURPS it is not something ready to play. But if you are willing to come up with scenarios of your own it is excellent!
GURPS: Cliffhangers - A very well written sourcebook full of ideas. Although written for GURPS it can be used for any other system. It contains a time line of thirties, a seizable geographical sections dealing with possible adventure ideas for a given country, there is of course an equipment table, templates of adventurers, chock-full of scenario seeds, a section on scenario design and creation of memorable villains and more. Altogether an excellent supplement for GM. It has characteristic GURPSy "dryness" - i.e. no fluff and no imposed ideas. It is a toolkit for people who want to develop their own ideas. Big thumbs up!
I wreszcie coś po polsku - doskonały dodatek wypuszczony przez wydawnictwo Gramel:
Sensacja i Przygoda - Pulpowy podręcznik, który przeczytałem po GURPS: Cliffhangers, tym razem do mechaniki Savage Worlds. Mam wrażenie, że jest luźniejszy, mniej w nim suchych informacji, więcej klimatu. W jakimś sensie oba te podręczniki się uzupełniają. Szczególnie przypadły mi do gustu sekcje dotyczące Polski, w szczególności wywiadu. Za spory plus uważam generator przygód. Z drugiej strony przeszkadzają literówki i drobne błędy (np w tabelce broni). Ogólnie nie ma się jednak co czepiać. Dobra pozycja i do tego po polsku!