Contenu rédigé par Peter D. Tillman
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Peter D. Tillman (Taos, NM USA)
5.0 étoiles sur 5
Well-done, complex, worthwhile alt-hist political thriller, Jan 1 2004
[paired review with Ghost of the Revelator]
Johan Eschbach, retired from an eventful career in service to
Columbia as a naval aviator, Spazi agent, and cabinet minister,
now teaches environmental economics at Vanderbraak State
University in New Bruges (New Hampshire in OTL). Doktor
Eschbach lost both his wife and daughter in a political murder --
he himself was badly wounded -- and he would like nothing better
than a quiet life in this academic backwater. But that would make
for a dull book, and he is soon caught up in a murder
investigation, love affair, political intrigues, and secret military
research into "deghosting".
Doktor Eschbach's solution to the ensuing tangle is
"rather appalling and not entirely credible" [note 1].
"A land of dirigibles and difference engines, Modesitt's
eerily refined world is compelling and coolly original, a place where
you still drive to work in a car--albeit steam-powered--but think
nothing of waving good morning to the zombies raking leaves off the
lawn." -- Paul Hughes, Amazon.com
Ghost of the Revelator picks up Doktor Eschbach and his new
wife Llysette Du Boise as her singing career is taking off, and
as the messy ending to "Tangible" comes back to haunt Eschbach.
The story unfolds slowly, but the same wonderful details of
everyday life that enlivened the first book -- lunch at a favorite
cafe, icy roads, dense, lazy, occasionally sharp students, petty
academic politics, politicians who can "smile and smile and be a
villain" -- make the trip worthwhile. This world is slower-paced
than ours, and Modesitt's prose has something of the heavy Dutch
feel of well-fed burghers, shining-clean windows, tidy lives. Very
human. If slow bothers you -- skim.
Modesitt still hasn't smoothed out his jarring exposition
of the differences between his alternate world and ours, here
usually dumped as interior monologues. Show, don't tell, please!
Llysette sings at a Presidential Arts Awards dinner and is
invited to perform at the prestigious Salt Palace in Deseret --
after fleeing the fall of France and an Austrian political prison.
Johan comes to the uncomfortable conclusion that he's about to be
eclipsed in fame and fortune by his glamorous wife....
....but maybe Deseret is after more than just a performance by the
new prima diva. And what about Austria-Hungary? And New
France? And the shadowy "Revealed Twelve"?
Minister Eschbach resolves the ensuing international crisis with
verve, skill, and a couple of twists that would be unfair to reveal.
Suffice it to say that the ending is most satisfactory, and leaves
plenty of room for future Eschbach/Du Boise adventures.
Both books are reasonably self-contained, but if you read one and
like it, you'll want to read the other, so it makes sense to start with #1.
Doktor Eschbach and the "Ghosts" books have parallels to Mr
Modesitt's real life: the author was a naval aviator, spent twenty
years in our "Federal District" as a political aide, EPA staffer, and
college teacher. He's married to a lyric soprano (sorceress?, who
teaches at Southern Utah University). He and his family moved
from DC to New Hampshire ("New Bruges") and then to Utah:
these are the settings for the "Ghosts" books. "Write what you
know," the old adage goes -- it certainly works for Modesitt. I
presume the spies and ghosts are from the author's imagination...
Note 1) -- not to mention *confusing*. A reader at
Amazon.com writes: "I've read the book 6 or 7 times,
and I'm *still* not sure what's happened at the end..."
5.0 étoiles sur 5
Superior alt-hist political thriller. 4.5 stars, Jan 1 2004
Johan Eschbach, retired from an eventful career as a
naval aviator, Spazi agent, and cabinet minister, now
teaches environmental economics at Vanderbraak State
University in New Bruges (New Hampshire in OTL). He's married
to lyric soprano Llysette Du Boise, whose performance at Deseret's
Salt Palace (in Ghost of the Revelator), and the best-selling CD
recorded then, has made her reputation worldwide. Lysette is
invited to perform for the tzar in Moscow -- oh, and would Johan
undertake a bit of quiet diplomacy for Columbia with the Imperial
government, while he's there?
Not surprisingly, this 'quiet' diplomacy ends in violence, but does
lead, as hoped, to an oil concession for Columbian Dutch Petro in
Russian Alaska. The thriller part is well-done & fun, but the real
strength of the book is the continued development of Modesitt's
alternate world, and the closely-observed details of daily life in
Columbia, which shares North America with Quebec, Deseret and
New France -- and the world with Emperor Ferdinand's cruel and
aggressive Austrian (Hapsburg) empire.
White Nights is the conclusion of the Ghosts novels, per the dust
jacket, but I rather hope Modesitt decides to continue. I've become
fond of Johan, Lysette, New Bruges, the petty academic politics at
Vanderbraak State, the Stanley steamers, and the slow pace of life in
OTOH, Modesitt doesn't do well with long series...
5.0 étoiles sur 5
A hard-eyed look at an ancient human dilemma, Jan 1 2004
Monsters as political leaders have been a recurrent nightmare in our
history - from Lenin, Hitler, Stalin & Mao to such comparative small-
timers as Idi Amin, Pol Pot & Saddam Hussein. The record of "good
governments" in dealing with monsters is not encouraging. Millions of
lives could have been saved with a few snipers' bullets... why weren't
Modesitt posits the Ecolitan Institute, on the Coordinate capitol world of
Accord, as a genocide-prevention force: "The Institute, for better or
worse, operates on principle. They try to avoid small wars... by deceit,
assassination, or economic warfare. They willl try any type of small-scale
tactic to avoid war... That's the good side... The other side is that when
they do fight, they insure they don't have to fight that enemy again."
Economist Nathaniel Whaler is sent to the frontier colony of Artos,
ostensibly to do a survey of the planet's infrastructure. His (barely)
covert mission is to look into rumors of war. His task is complicated by
multiple assassination attempts. Clearly, he and the Institute are being
set up as fall guys by one of the interstellar powers - but which one?
Shadowy organizations of dedicated, competent fighters-against-evil are
a classic sf trope, and Modesitt knows the classics. "Enigma" is the latest
and one of the best: thoughtful, well-written, an accurate and disturbing
portrait of the dark side of humanity: "Greed and force - that's all most
people listen to."
This isn't a grim or preachy book  - Modesitt's action and intrigue
scenes are first-rate, and the ending is, well, earthshaking. "Enigma" can
be enjoyed as a first-rate political-adventure tale, as the latest part of a
long-running sf conversation, as an examination of human nature... It's
an outstanding work, and I plan to reread it a few years on.
I see I've left out the economic basis of conflict, the well-drawn
characters, the romance amidst danger and intrigue... Well. You'll like it.
Trust me. Assuming you've liked this sort of book before. It's like that,
only better. Subtler, better-written, less self-righteous...
Note 1). LEM does get a bit heavy-handed at times, especially with his
politicians. And he includes a *major* spoiler (IMO) in the first 20 pages.
But you'll get over it.
| by J McDevitt|
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
|Prix : CDN$ 9.50||
5.0 étoiles sur 5
Polished hard-SF mystery-thriller first-contact story., Dec 31 2003
Infinity Beach stands out for its polished, adult prose, and for its
complex, conflicted characters, muddling through life. McDevitt's
writing is clean and mature. The plot is twisty, genre-bending,
romantic, recomplicated. Experienced readers will have seen all of his
plot-elements before, but McDevitt plants enough red herrings to keep
you guessing (me, anyway). This is a world-class novelist writing at the
height of his powers. A Nebula award nominee, and not to be missed.
Infinity Beach features some of the creepiest aliens since, well, "Alien".
At least three times, I felt the hair rise up on the back of my neck.... it's
been awhile since that's happened. I liked this book a lot. A definite
"Jack McDevitt is that splendid rarity, a writer who is a
storyteller first and a science fiction writer second... If you've
never read McDevitt before, you couldn't find a better book to
start with than Infinity Beach, a nail-biting neo-Gothic tale that
blends mystery, horror, and a fascinating look at how first contact
with an utterly alien species might happen. I simply couldn't put
it down - I was up until long past midnight and loving every minute
of it. Kim Brandywine is one of McDevitt's most engaging
characters, both real and appealing. Snatch this baby up, all
right? You're going to love it even if you think you don't like
science fiction. You might even want to drop me a thank-you note
for the tip before racing out to your local bookstore to pick up
the Jack McDevitt backlist."
-- Stephen King, at McDevitt's website.
| by Wil McCarthy|
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
|Prix : CDN$ 9.89||
4.0 étoiles sur 5
Dazzling hard-SF opening fades to melodrama, Dec 30 2003
Rating: science "A+", fiction "B-" -- a dazzling hard-SF opening fades to melodrama. Worth reading for the opener and the bleeding-edge sci-tech.
The Collapsium opens with a wonderful novella,"Once Upon a Matter Crushed" (first published in SF Age 5/99). In the late 25th century, in the eighth decade of the Queendom of Sol, gravitation and the zero-point field are pretty well understood. "Neubles," diamond-clad neutronium spheres, are in everyday use -- a standard industrial neuble masses a billion tonnes, and has a radius of 2.67 cm. Our Hero, superscientist Bruno de Towaji, is experimenting with collapsium, a dangerous, metastable material made of proton-size black holes, when he receives a Royal Summons: the new near-solar collapsiter ring is unstable, and will fall into the sun (and eat it) unless Something is Done....
The book is written in an engaging neo-Victorian style -- McCarthy's first experiment with literary Style, vs. his previous 'transparent' prose. I liked it. Witty repartee, amusing pratfalls and shrewd insights abound. Bruno meets a well-married couple at a celebrity fund-raiser on Maxwell Montes, Venus: "The love, shyness and exasperation between them radiated out in invisible rays, like infrared. Warming." Befuddled by a bottomless beer mug, Bruno warms to the pitch: "Would, ah, would a hundred trillion dollars be enough?" <beat>
McCarthy's sci-tech extrapolation is exotic, fun and reasonably plausible. He's clearly done his homework -- the book includes 30 pages of appendices, a glossary, technical notes (including the working equations to synthesize neubles), and respectable references. Fun stuff (really!), one of the highlights of the book.
The range and depth of McCarthy's imagined technologies are dazzling -- I'm reminded of Drexler's pioneering "Engines of Creation," and I hope McCarthy (or someone) does a speculative-science article on the technological implications, if the zero-point field explanation for gravity turns out to be correct. (If you've seen one, I'd appreciate hearing about it.) Lots more neat SF ideas where these came from....
So I was really pumped, reading the first hundred pages -- cool science, nice Style, nifty characters, a big-screen space-opera storyline. What's not to like?
Well, the rest of the book? The first thud comes when Bruno is recalled to the inner system -- to fix the same problem again! Then he has to fix it a *third* time, with even sillier, pulpier results. His scientific competitor, and rival for the Queen's affection, turns out to be a really Horrid Villain.... And the characters are hard to kill, because they have backups, except when they don't -- but wait, maybe they do, after all.... And characters start acting, well, out of character. And there's a pointless, dangling subplot, among other loose ends. I suppose McCarthy intended to write a good old-fashioned super-science melodrama, except with real science -- but the last two-thirds of the book just didn't work, for me anyway. Dammit.
Which is a pity, because "Crushed" is brilliant, and the science is so cool. Oh well -- I'd rather read an ambitious failure than a potboiler. If you're already a McCarthy fan, or crave bleeding-edge hard SF, you won't want to miss The Collapsium -- the good parts anyway. And who knows, your tolerance for melodrama may be higher than mine -- other reviewers have been more generous.
But if you're new to McCarthy, I'd start with Bloom or another, earlier book -- and you should try him, he's very good. Usually. Maybe next time he should coast a little on the science -- both the Bloom and Collapsium universes have plenty of room for more stories -- and work harder on the fiction.
[Published 2000 at SF Site]
4.0 étoiles sur 5
Pretty good humorous Cal-contemporary fantasy, Dec 30 2003
Just finished this pretty good humorous Cal-contemporary fantasy -- which
opens with a sea monster mounting a gasoline tank-truck, with, well,
explosive results -- "... She was gone now, but [the Sea Beast] said, 'A
simple No would have sufficed...'"
The Sea Beast (who's named 'Steve', by Kendra, Warrior Babe of the
Outlands) "came to the surface in the middle of a kelp bed, his massive head
breaking through strands of kelp like a zombie pickup truck breaking sod as
it rises from the grave." Laurell K. Hamilton, take note.
'Steve' stirs up the animal spirits of the low-seritonin residents of Pine Cove
(Cambria?) -- of which there are many, as the town's sole psychiatrist has cut
off their Prozac, surreptitiosly substituting sugar-pill placebos, with the
connivance of the town's sole pharmacist, who satisfies his carnal urges
with an inflatable dolphin in his bathtub....
[Dr. Val] came out of her office to find her new receptionist, Chloe, furiously
masturbating, "her steno chair squeaking like a tortured squirrel."
"Sorry," Chloe said, a bit later... "I just want to stop. My wrist hurts a
little. Do you think I could have carpal tunnel?"
Dr. Val, fearful of a workman's comp lawsuit, prescribes oven mitts,
strapped on with duct tape.
Well, it's all good clean dopey romantic fun, though with more smiles than
laughs, for me anyway, and not quite as good as this outline sounds --
but humor is tricky, and some of you will love it.
5.0 étoiles sur 5
Rating: A/A- ; humorous light fantasy., Dec 30 2003
Business has been slow for Hali, and she's stuck in an irritatingly tidy
A-frame with a blue plastic roof. When her boss Bentwood comes up
with a scheme to lure fantasy gamers to the Inner World as tourists,
she agrees to help in exchange for a properly spooky witch's hut...
As witches go, she lacked a certain fearsome something...
Preteens, to her mortification, pegged her instantly as a pushover...
Hali liked to think that her mouse-brown hair snaked about her face,
but in reality it hung in limp tendrils that only came to life in wet
weather, when they suddenly sat up and curled wildly...
At the other extreme, Hali's most beguiling expression, adopted at
social occasions attended by attractive males, tended to send her targets
running for their lives.
The gamers are told that they'll have a chance to play a VR game of
*unprecedented* realism. They're duly ported over from the Outer
Worlds, and the fun begins. The first group includes two college boys,
one high-school girl, and a singularly obnoxious game-critic - in
terminal exasperation, Hali turns this last into a giant dung-beetle. He
finds he rather likes his new role...
"Trust me, he's a happy insect, " Hali said... "The antidote's the
"True love's kiss?", Bernie asked, amused. "That one's not going to
find true love outside a mirror."
There are few surprises in this first novel, but the cheerful tone and
amusing skits keep the pages turning. Ms. Cushman is perhaps better-
known for her monthly column in Locus, where she reviews books
much like the one she has written (though most of those are not so
well done). She is a reliable reviewer and an entertaining writer. I
hope she got sufficient encouragement from "W&W" to write another.
[review written 1998]
4.0 étoiles sur 5
A clever, intricate noir SF-thriller, Dec 29 2003
While Nocturne is unquestionably SF, Matz's "dangerous man"
reminds me more of classic noir detectives like Ross Macdonald's Lew
Archer & John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. Stir in a dollop of Wire
Paladin and you have Gavilan Robie: a near-future P.I., now a
specialist in the recovery of stolen art, but a man with a darker history
of dangerous 'recoveries'. Between cases, or when tension mounts,
he relaxes by playing his Guarneri cello, a gift from a grateful client
after a particularly hairy rescue.
Robie is asked to 'recover' Siv Matthiessin,who's been kidnapped by an
eco-terrorist group that is demanding an enormous ransom and an end to
her employer's Congo Basin construction project. Robie seems to offer
her only chance of surviving her ordeal, in a future that's grown
warmer, darker, meaner....
This is a book that worked really well while I was reading it, but won't
stand up to much post-reading poking-about. In particular, hero Robie
is just too omni-competent to be real. But superman power-fantasies are
an honorable SF tradition, and Nocturne is a fine and absorbing
entertainment. I'm looking forward to Matz's next.
Don't be put off by the lurid cover, which looks like a Baen reject,
& has virtually nothing to do with the book...
4.0 étoiles sur 5
Short & sweet, fast & funny, but a weak, pat ending, Dec 29 2003
Rating: "A" -- a fresh look at future politics, married to solid hard-sf
extrapolation. Short & sweet, fast & funny, but with an appalling
protagonist and a weak, pat ending. Even so, highly recommended.
This isn't a preview-type review. *SPOILER ALERT*
You really shouldn't read past here if you
haven't read the book. And much of what follows won't make sense
if you do.
"A brilliant novel of ideas" -- front-cover blurb by Vernor Vinge.
The central anarcho-socialist idea -- the "True Knowledge" -- is,
well.... "Might Makes Right". Ugh. I've always thought the best way
to judge a person's character is to watch how they treat someone
who has no power over them -- think back to good & bad bosses
you've had. Fortunately, the "comrades" don't seem to apply this
principle in their everyday lives. But the protagonist, Ellen May
Ngewthu, is an appalling individual, a close analog to Gen. Curtis
"Bomb 'em back to the Stone Age" LeMay. Unlike LeMay, she has
the freedom to act, and completely destroys the "post-human"
Jovian civilization for the offense of hijacking a third-party
spaceship. Even the crudest SF carnography trots out a stronger casus
belli to trigger mass genocide (at least for human aggressors).
Ellen has a remarkable ability to dehumanize her opponents --
bluntly, she's a violently paranoid racist. Even after personal contact
with legally-human "robots" on New Mars has, kind of sort of, made
her accept them as "part of *us*, whereas the Jovians --
'You mean you would contemplate a union -- with *them*?'...."
".... Time for Plan B," Ellen decides, disregarding a direct order from
the Solar Council delegate -- Plan B being genocide by comet
bombardment. Worked, too. And the Jovies *were* baddies, through
& through, in the pat, weak & rather disappointing ending. Feh.
Post-socialism (or anarcho-socialism) in MacLeod's Solar Union
adopts the form, but little content, from present-day socialism and
communism -- irony? (At least, I hope the character who says that
Lenin was "just misunderstood" is intended as irony.) The Union
economy isn't described in enough detail to judge whether it might
actually work (though with enough to succeed as a fictional device).
Perhaps there's more detail elsewhere -- this is the first MacLeod
book I've read (but it won't be the last).
MacLeod has clearly read his Vinge -- though, curiously, the Union's
policy is to avoid a Vingean singularity at almost any cost, and to
destroy any culture that reaches it. For a more convincing (IMO)
snapshot of a successful democratic anarchy, read Vinge's "The
Ungoverned." Another sfnal predecessor that likely influenced
MacLeod is Ursula K. LeGuin's wonderful "The Dispossessed" and
related works. And read Hans Moravec's recent "Robots" for another
view of the coming post-human era.
Humans as aliens: the MacLeod future history has encountered no
aliens, so they've made their own -- the "fast folk" or post-humans
are the most dramatic example, but all three societies here -- the
post-socialists, the anarcho-capitalists and the fast folk -- are quite
different from today's cultures, and quite strange to each other, a
welcome relief from the more usual "futures" that are today with
tailfins stuck on. And it's a pleasure to read a lean, non-bloated
Not that there aren't some future-anachronisms here: helicopters,
elevator attendants(!), brass-&-steel(!) mechanical computers....
Memo to MacLeod: brush up on your Drexlerian molecular rod-logic
nanocomputers. Or if those won't work -- DNA-based
biocomputation. Or if you *have* to go macro-mechanical, you'd
use lightweight composites & light metals -- inertia in the gear
trains, y'know? And anyway -- how likely is it that non-networked
electronic computers would be crippled -- or taken over -- by "radio
viruses" from Jupiter?
Tin Ear Dept: ".... I weren't that worried. Had you lot figured.... Just
gosh-darn lucky...." (p. 168, US hc ed). Umm. Mebbe this rancher
emigrated to Texas from the lil ol' UK?
Enough of this grumbling & nit-picking -- I had a great time reading
"Cassini Division", which you might not have guessed, I just
realized, from reading this far. I found myself deliberately slowing
down to savor the book, something I last did for Phyllis Gotlieb's
lapidary "Flesh & Gold". And it makes you think. A definite keeper,
highly recommended despite the appalling genocidal "heroine."
Hey, it could be worse. Consider, for example, Barnes'
"Kaleidoscope Century", or Barton's "When Heaven Fell." At least
Ellen has self-doubts...
(review written 10-99)
2.0 étoiles sur 5
Not even a very interesting failure, Dec 29 2003
I picked this one up from the library for some reason, renewed it a couple of times, and finally read it last night. I finished it, but just barely.
BT opens pretty well, with an oddball first expedition to Alpha Centauri based partly on an Iroquois legend. The sfnal premises are laughably wrong-headed -- the stuff of bad TV shows -- but I kept reading, thinking Levinson had something else in mind. Perhaps he did, but the story kept twisting and turning -- odd enough to keep me reading, but not coherent enough to gel. About the only real virtue in BT is that it is short.
Some readers did like it -- the Amazon reviews are split between the 4-5 stars and the 1-2's...
This book clearly wasn't aimed at me. It's not even a very interesting failure. I won't be eager to read another Levinson novel. Caveat lector.
Next time I'll try to remember to check the reviews first. It's not like I don't have other stuff to read...