Science, Science Fiction, and other Stuff

from novelist Bill Lace

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Reviews

  

TIMELINE (Novel), Michael Crichton, 3.5 out of 5 Stars, 05/25/2019


I’ve read many of Crichton’s novels over the years. They’ve rarely strayed from his predictable pattern of principled scientists saving the day when greedy big tech goes bad. But given Crichton’s success, I can’t blame him for having stuck with the basics of the recipe and just switching the protein. Timeline is no different, with the meat this time being a history lesson of 14th century France mixed into the cooking via time travel.


While the time travel aspect is interesting, it’s probably not as interesting as it would have been at the time of publication, 1999, considering the amount of other literature and media since then, and before, also probing time travel. But the history lesson is worth the read, and given that, the novel almost seems more historical fiction than science fiction. No matter, there’s still plenty of science, even 14th century science.


Our principled scientists come from an archeological dig team funded by the greedy big tech. When the tech goes bad, the team is called upon, but must navigate the hazards greedy big tech left in its wake. Seem familiar? Dinosaurs anyone? Once in the 14th century, the scientists’ quest lends itself to Crichton’s exploration of the century’s culture, language, religion, and martial strategies, traditions and advancements. His use of a four-page bibliography to back his exposure of many misconceptions of the era doesn’t turn the read into a dull lecture, but instead allows Crichton to fascinate the reader and oftentimes shock them through swift and brutal justice and injustice being meted out. Ultimately, Timeline comes back around to Crichton’s pattern when concluding the read, but the journey through long-ago France is unique. 



THE CONSUMING FIRE (Novel), John Scalzi, 4.5 out of 5 Stars, 02/17/2019 


Second in John Scalzi’s The Interdependency series, The Consuming Fire weaves medieval palace intrigue and power games within a cast of ambitious families ruling interdependent star systems. Scalzi’s worldbuilding—and destroying—is first rate, scientifically believable yet dazzling at the same time.


Emperox Grayland II and her reticent love-interest Marce must confront widespread doubts about the collapse of the Flow, mysterious tunnels connecting the star systems. To change minds, Grayland plies religion, which rivals seize upon as an opportunity. In response, she turns to stratagem. The consummate physicist, Marce presents scientific research, but critics are unmoved. Grayland and Marce's struggles to convince the stubborn and unwilling may remind readers of today’s arguments over climate change on Earth. But the behind-the-scenes scheming is reminiscent of House of Cards.


Marce’s exploration of a Flow quirk leads to encounters with peculiar survivors foreign to the Interdependency. Marce employs a sort of Prime Directive with the living, but joins forces with a non-living, and in doing so, learns of much he didn’t know. The Consuming Fire rockets from its predecessor, The Collapsing Empire, mesmerizes, entertains, and leaves the reader salivating for the series' third.



STARSHIP TROOPERS  (Novel), Robert Heinlein, 4 out of 5 Stars, 08/22/2018 

 

After looking over the wide range of science fiction works and genres (and ones handy on my bookshelf), I chose Starship Troopers to read. I had not previously read Robert Heinlein’s 1959 classic, but had enjoyed the 1997 film, a stylized, loose adaptation of the novel. So, I continue on my unintended theme of reviewing novels that became films (or might, as I have read that Artemis is being adapted into a screenplay). Notably, Starship Troopers led to multiple movies and even animation series, though not all fared well. The novel has been sliced and diced by thousands previous to me, but less frequently of late, which given world advancements (or regressions, arguably) makes for fascinating examination.


Starship Troopers and Heinlein were in the vanguard of the genre of military science fiction. But it’s less given to first-hand battles (the thrilling first-chapter raid proves to be a bit of a tease) and more focused on military philosophy—training, leadership, strategy—and on technological developments for a military and infantry in space. Heinlein’s philosophical commentary reflects his military experience and immerses readers into the extremes of what is required to forge elite soldiers. This commentary also frequently wades into what arguably may be Heinlein’s idea of a model government, where people gain citizenship through military service, becoming eligible to vote and hold office in a sort of benevolent veteran meritocracy. The novel asserts that such citizens better lead society through an appreciation of the good of the whole rather than just themselves or a few. This seems relevant to today’s arguments over a certain chief executive.


Science fiction works from past generations frequently grow dated in regards to their technological vision. But Heinlein’s world of future military technology remains impressive. He is credited with popularizing the idea of powered armor suits, and besides his limiting of communication channels because of the number of “circuits” and not anticipating the rise of unmanned systems, Heinlein’s vision in the novel endures today.


Heinlein’s preaching is wide-ranging and plentiful and becomes long in parts, but the Bug War remains in the background to keep the reader going. All in all, I enjoyed Starship Troopers



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About

Novelist Bill Lace

A few years back, I wrote the fictional novel TEARS OF ESPERANZA to share stories from Arizonans swept up in the immigration debate. Mainly a local interest, though people as far away as Germany bought it, TEARS placed second in the 2013 Arizona Literary Contest published fiction category. It was my first venture into public writing, and I got hooked, perhaps in part because my mom's a retired librarian and libraries carry my father's books. CELESTIAL, my next work and a science fiction novel, is now in limited release.


I'm an engineer by education and training and a federal law enforcement agent in employment. I bounce between Arizona and Washington, DC, stare at the sky through an 8" telescope, and my favorite T-shirt notes the temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns.

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