Saturday, October 29, 2016

To Honor You Call Us

To Honor You Call UsTo Honor You Call Us by H. Paul Honsinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed a great deal of To Honor You Call Us, yet there was quite a bit about it I did not enjoy.

Captain Max Robichaux has been given command of the USS Cumberland, a bad luck destroyer with a problem crew, and tasked with going to the outer reaches of the galaxy to harass and fight humanity’s enemy, the Krag, aliens intent upon humanity’s genocide. Max’s only friend is the ship’s doctor, a brilliant, but woefully na├»ve man who helps Max gradually whip the crew into shape. There are instances of shadowing Krag ships, and of being shadowed, but there’s no real action until the end of the book when there is a climactic battle that Max predictably wins. And that’s one of the problems of the book – its predictability. Naturally, the protagonist has a tortured past, suffering from PTSD, and has a drinking problem, so he’s not perfect, even though virtually all of his solutions to the problems the ship encounters along the way are perfect. He’s a damn naval genius. Of course. And of course he whips the problem crew into shape. And of course there’s a drug problem among the crew and of course the doctor rehabilitates virtually everyone so that quite soon they’re all happy and productive naval personnel again. And of course Max thwarts a Krag battle plan aimed at another alien species, whom Max saves and of course, now they’re our allies. Of course. I’m not saying this stuff doesn’t work. I’m just saying you could pretty much guess what was coming down the pike and you really didn’t need to keep reading to know what would happen.

One of the things that really got to me in this book, and wait until you read the next book in the series – I just did – is the speeches and explanations. My God, it’s unreal! As I said, there’s not much in the way of action until the end of the book, so there are just events, speeches, a crew mutiny, more speeches, the drug problems I mentioned, continued speeches, some introspection, crazy speeches, and – holy crap – even more speeches! And perhaps by speeches, I mean explaining. Because that’s probably what it really is. The characters are forever explaining things to each other – and the reader – so everyone will know what’s going on. But it goes on and on, for pages. Max explains the secrets of the universe to the doctor and his crew and the doctor explains every scientific fact known to mankind to Max and the crew. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but that’s what it feels like. Page after page of explanations. I’ve never seen a book like this before. The author obviously thinks his readers are morons, or he wouldn’t spend so much time explaining the plot and tactical strategy and so on to “the crew” (and us). Sometimes it’s nice to NOT know everything that’s going on in a book, believe it or not. Sometimes I like to be surprised. This was just overkill.

Oh, and the female subplot. Apparently, the Krag released a virus of some sort that killed off about 70% of humanity’s female population, so apparently they’re kept at home, safe and sound. As a result, there are no female characters, which is a virtual first for me in a sci fi novel, with the near exception of Asimov’s first Foundation novel, a book that had one minor female character toward the end of the book. Since all male crews are in space for many months to possibly years at a time, you would think homosexuality would be prevalent, but that’s never mentioned in this book, which I thought was odd. The author passed up a chance to make a statement one way or the other on this topic.

Another issue: boarding parties. With swords. Like pirates. Seriously?

Finally, the author had the annoying habit of dropping pop cultural references to late twentieth century technology, fiction and sci fi, such as Star Trek, but since this is the twenty fourth century, how realistic is it to think that not only would he know all of this stuff, but that when he mentions these references aloud, his crew gets them? I think the author screwed this one up.

All this aside, the book isn’t bad. Robichaux, while both flawed and too perfect of a commander, is a likable character. And the final battle scene is pretty cool. And the budding friendly relationship between the captain and the doctor is enjoyable to see develop. Still, none of this can save the book from its problems, most especially the damned nonstop explaining and speeches. It would have been a four star book without those. With those problems, I’m knocking it down to three stars, although I’m still cautiously recommending it. It’s the first in a series. I’ve already read the second, but I’ll leave my opinion on that for the review I’ll write on that one.


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Friday, October 21, 2016

From Windows to Ubuntu

From Windows To UbuntuFrom Windows To Ubuntu by Gary Newell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Windows To Ubuntu is a guide for Windows users interested in using Ubuntu for the first time. There is a chapter on how to dual boot Windows with Ubuntu, which is what I needed to read when I bought this book. This small book then goes on to cover a number of things, such as showing you around the Unity desktop, complete with sections on the launcher and the Dash. And since most people need to know how to print, there is a guide showing how to set up a printer. Additionally, as many people know, Linux-based computers typically have important security issues, so there is a small section on security, including how to add other users. Furthermore, there is a fairly in-depth overview of LibreOffice, Linux’s free version of MS Office, with guides covering Writer, Calc, Impress and Database.

This book is only 180 pages, so it only covers the basics. Don’t buy it expecting detailed information. But it’s a good introduction for Windows users who are transitioning to Ubuntu, so it’s not a bad investment. There are many other resources out there that are more comprehensive for when you’re ready to take that step. Four stars and recommended.

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Children of Time

Children of TimeChildren of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An epic story that many people love, but I just couldn't get into it. Its slow pacing and constant switching between human and insect protagonists from chapter to chapter drove me nuts. It had some interesting ideas and, yes, was fairly unique, but I actually found it fairly boring.

Humanity has destroyed Earth, but slightly before this happens, a scientist discovers a planet that gets terraformed and she hatches a plan to drop a nano-virus on some chimps to start over, minus people, but this nano will help them evolve quickly, super quickly, and will turn them into geniuses within centuries. Trouble is, the chimps never make it to the planet, so when the nano is dropped, it's dropped on spiders and ants. And so we get the tale of super spiders that grow larger and stronger and smarter over generations, so that at some point, they're geniuses.

Meanwhile, a spaceship carrying thousands of people in cyrosleep is searching for a planet to colonize and happen upon this one. As they approach it, an AI stops them and threatens them. The AI is based on this scientist, who is mad as a hatter by now.

The rest of the story revolves around what happens when the humans interact with the spiders, basically. And I've got to say, the chapters with the humans don't do much for me. The chapters with the spiders are moderately interesting, as well as with the ants. But then again, it's sort of creepy, with an almost horror-like vibe to it.

Whatever the case, it's just not my cup of tea. I had heard a lot of good things about it, so I decided to give it a try. I'm more of a military sci fi guy, so maybe I'll just stick with that. I'll stick with David Weber. This probably isn't a bad book for most. Just didn't do it for me. Three stars for boredom, as well as for possibly being overrated. Recommended for people who like hard science, but only cautiously so.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Rainbows End

Rainbows EndRainbows End by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I admittedly haven't read much Vernor Vinge, but I know some of his books have won several Hugo Awards, including this one. But whenever I read him, I just don't enjoy his books. Admittedly, Vinge is an idea guy. He comes up with big ideas, world building stuff that can fascinate and allow the reader to explore new concepts and realms of being. But not in this book. In this book, the setting is just a few years in our future here on Earth and it's not a big concept world he creates. It's a little too plausible. A former "great" and famous poet from our current era (now) pretty much dies of Alzheimer's and is revived by his family roughly 10-15 years in the future. He has no clue what is and has happened. He discovers the world has changed and everyone uses wearable computers and are jacked into a worldwide network (Internet) and there is no demand for any type of former skills the elderly had. Indeed, the only careers I can recall people having in this book are kids and old people going to vocational tech high schools and normally aged adults joining the military. There's not much else. There are people who are about to be former librarians, because all of the books in the world's libraries are being destroyed because they're all being digitized. So, Robert Gu, the protagonist, is sent back to this votech high school to learn some skills that will translate into a real world job, one where information is the only source of monetary income and where data exchange is the only thing that most of that future's young people care about.

One of the early things we learn about in the book is there is some secret plot to create a subliminal virus in a tv medium so it can take over the world and it is being brought about and handled by one person, one of the "good" guys, or so people are led to believe. There's also a super powerful AI named "Rabbit," who we never learn much about, but who plays a major role in the book. Speaking of never learning much about, that applies to most of the characters besides Gu, and we don't necessarily learn enough about him to care enough about what happens to him in this book. He turns from former world class poet into a data junkie with the help of a loser teenager who is always looking for a type of big score and they make an odd pair. And they collaborate on high school projects, but we never really see how. In fact, we're never really shown how much of this futuristic, yet oh so possibly real, tech is literally used. However, back to what I was saying. Gu's family is sick of him living with them, so they urge him to learn enough at high school to enable him to get a job (seriously? what type? doing what? he's taking shop!), so he can move out. Great family. Completely dysfunctional. We never learn very much about any of the characters. They're flat, they're not very important, most of the interesting ones don't even make enough appearances to allow us to get to know them. Characterization is a problem, then, in this book. So, too, the plot. I tried getting into it, but it just didn't resonate with me. This super secret horrible plot to take over the world, this international crisis, is being constructed at UC San Diego and yet, I didn't ever really get the idea that it was seriously that big of a deal. A subliminal virus? Oh wow, what a freaking nightmare! Worse than a nuclear bomb, clearly. Dear God, what will we do if it is released into the world? Oh man, who gives a shit? I just don't care. And that's a major point. In the end, what does the reader truly care about this book? Because to me, it was just not very interesting. I couldn't relate to the characters, I thought the plot was damn stupid, I thought the technology, while moderately interesting, was close enough to today's reality so that it didn't really stretch my imagination enough to actually call it sci fi. It's simply current reality, sped up by a decade. Big deal. And seniors who were successful CEOs, professors, career big shots returning to a vocational high school to learn new skills so that they can get a job in this futuristic society? That simply strikes me as stupid.

On the whole, Vinge, the idea guy who's usually full of major universe shattering ideas, does almost nothing in this book to merit placing it up against his other works and I'm shocked this won the Hugo. I'd love to know what books were his competition that year, because it must have been a lean year for sci fi books. This book could have used some help with the dialogue, with character development, with plot development, with technology development, and perhaps a few others things. As far as I'm concerned, this book was a disappointment to me and I'm giving it two stars (although it probably deserves one) and stating that I simply can't recommend it.


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