Review of Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

January 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Solar ExpressSolar Express
By L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (review is of the print)
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: November 2015

Themes: / space opera / military sci-fi / alien artifacts / science fiction /

Publisher summary:

You can’t militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth’s surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation.

The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the “Solar Express” before it perhaps destroys itself.

Leading the way for the North American Union is Alayna’s friend, Captain Christopher Tavoian, one of the first shuttle pilots to be trained for combat in space. But, as the alien craft gets closer to its destination, it begins to alter the surface of the sun in strange new ways, ways that could lead Alayna to revolutionary discoveries-provided Chris can prevent war from breaking out as he navigates among the escalating tensions between nations.

This is an unusual book to review, since it feels unstuck in time. On the one hand, it reads like a mid-20th-century science fiction adventure, with heroic pilot and astronomer successfully solving space problems. On the other hand, it earnestly points a century ahead, to a world built from concerns very prominent in 2015.

Solar Express is about an object hurtling across the solar system during the year 2114. Two main characters engage with it, and with each other. The astronomer, Alayna Wong-Grant, works in a lunar observatory by herself, and discovers what seems like a comet. The pilot, Chris Tavoian, is tasked with exploring it. Much of the novel’s dramatic power comes from the interaction of these three, who nearly never touch each other.

The setting looms large. The world of 2114 is dominated by an East Asian polity, the Sinese republic (I think), in competition with a rising India and a sidelined North American entity (the US plus Canada, maybe including Mexico). The 21st century saw climate change occur, along with several bad wars, so there’s a touch of post-catastrophe in the staging. 2114 also sees Sinese-Indian competition rise to the brink of war, which should have added more dramatic punch to the novel than it actually did.

I began these notes by mentioning older sf, because my reading was haunted by many ghosts. Arthur C. Clarke’s great Rendezvous with Rama hovered over every page, as a humans try in vain to make sense of a cryptic alien artifact headed towards the sun. The super-competent pilot felt like a time traveler from the 1940s or 50s, as he successfully lands a plumb assignment, conducts geopolitical analysis, pilots expertly, investigates an alien machine, deals with foreign forces, deals with them again, and survives physical extremity.

That competence actually dragged down the middle third of Solar Express for me. It seemed like Tavoian’s explorations occurred at a snail’s pace, with a lot of repetition (performing similar tasks, writing to people in order to describe what we’ve just seen) and very slow progress.

The world-building wasn’t as successful as it could have been, as I noted above. For one we get too many historical observations from main characters discussing the present. People have a fondness for early 21st century history, which doesn’t make a lot of sense in that world – i.e., there’s no sense that people are history obsessives personally (as in many Poul Anderson stories) or culturally (check Harrison’s Centauri Device for an example) (57, 67, 130, 156, 232). Example: “Or [a person] believes that God in on their side. Like the Taliban in Pakistan seventy years ago.” (130) That’s an awkward reach to the reader. Imagine if a novel taking place in the present had characters in daily life – not historians – constantly referencing the War of 1812. Some of the non-narrative documents do a better job, including a kind of news + scandal sheet and selected articles.

Speaking of history, the world’s rush to war was a powerful context for the alien express, again reminding me of Arthur C. Clarke (2010 this time), but it played out oddly. The great powers confrontation is set up nicely about a 100 pages in, then ratchets up too slowly, with too much repetition (India threatens to use killer missiles, the North American president advises calm). We don’t get much insight into the crisis and its logic, perhaps because of our two-character focus.

The romance was gently handled, as each character has a lot on their plate. Besides their major work, each faces a family crisis at a distance. Astronomer and pilot have a geeky correspondence habit of exchanging political quotes with each other, the tenor of which reveal a grumpy, rather conservative outlook, which just lightly interacts with the rest of the plot.

And yet I enjoyed myself. I love stories of space adventure, and was fascinated by how this one played out. I wanted to see the alien artifact, to learn how the Sinese were responding, and what the heck was going on with the sun. Again, like a mid-20th-century sf novel, I was engaged.

As a work of hard science fiction, Solar Express is unapologetic. Like The Martian this novel zeroes in on science and technology challenges, from air filtration to spectroscopy to cleaning up lunar dust to the details of orbital mechanics. Check the jaw-dropping opening paragraph, which is a kind of dare or gauntlet hurled at the reader, starting off with a nearly 300-word first line about the physical and administrative (!) details of the moon base. Or read how the title first appears:

But by the time this object nears Mercury, it will be traveling at somewhere in the range of sixty lays per second, accelerating to as high as 250 by the time it reaches perihelion… a real solar express. (142)

Modessit does well pedagogically on this front, giving us detailed information, incremental developments, discussions, and solutions, while not stooping so low as to introduce many concepts.

So…. recommended as a fun read for people interested in hard sf and/or with a love of mid-20th-century space adventure stories. Not recommended for people who don’t read science fiction.

Posted by Bryan A.

The SFFaudio Podcast #262 – NEW RELEASES/RECENT ARRIVALS

April 28, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #262 – Jesse, Jenny, Tamahome, and Seth talk about NEW RELEASES and RECENT ARRIVALS.

Talked about on today’s show: We help Jesse clear off his desk by discussing books in paper (dead trees and rags), “like e-books but thicker”; Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan, second in the Lady Trent series, gorgeously illustrated, Darwin meets dragons; why are illustrations dying out, even in e-books?; Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan features good illustrations; The Raven’s Shadow, third in Elspeth Cooper’s Wild Hunt series; how many print pages in an hour of audio?; more from L.E. Modesitt Jr’s Imager series; John C. Wright’s The Judge of Ages, with allusions to Cordwainer Smith; The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, smarter steampunk?; a tangent on translating page to screen; Tam likes more fantasy in his fantasy; a tangent on Game of Thrones; a tangent on Citizen Brick and the expiration of the LEGO patent; The Revolutions by Felix Gilman; science fiction was once planetary romance; The PrestigeBest Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year vol. 8 edited by Jonathan Strahan, now published by Solaris, featuring a lot of great stories; and we finally reach audiobooks!; The Scottish Fairy Book, Volume 1; the timeless quality of folktales; Classics Lesson of the Day: Ovid’s a boy, Sappho’s a girl; Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear; we try to puzzle out what a stele is; we praise Bear’s interview on Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy; Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered isn’t romance “because fifty-year-olds never have romance”; Without a Summer, third in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series, expertly narrated by the author; Dreamwalker by C.S. Friedman doesn’t seem to be your run-of-the-mill urban fantasy (suburban fantasy?); Indexing by Seanan McGuire, urban fantasy with a postmodern twist; mimetic incursion and Jorge Luis Borges’s Averroes’s SearchNight Broken by Patricia Briggs, eighth in her Mercy Thompson series; a tangent on midriff tattoos and names for tattoos on other parts of the body; Jenny has created a new genre, Scientific Near Future Thrillers!; in the future, iPods will be merged into our eyebrows; science and technology don’t evolve quite how we expect; Neil Gaiman discusses the influence of Ballard and other classic SF writers on the Coode Street PodcastSleep Donation by Karen Russell; Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux; Boswell is Samuel Johnson’s biographer; Afterparty by Daryl Gregory is blowing up on Goodreads; pre- and post-apocalyptic fiction–no actual apocalypse this time; The End is Nigh, first in the Apocalypse Triptych edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey; the tech gremlins didn’t want us to discuss Dust, the third in Hugh Howey’s Silo series; Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor; The Forever Watch by David Ramirez, Jesse thinks the protagonist has too many jobs; “pause resister”, WTF?; Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, already reviewed here at SFFaudio; we struggle to define Pentecostal; religious opposition to the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass; Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s The Edge of Tomorrow (originally entitled All You Need Is Kill), Groundhog Day meets Fullmetal Jacket, film adaptation features Tom Cruise; Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer, a hardboiled detective story on Mars; Noggin by John Corey Whaley; Decoded by Mai Jia; Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones is a refresh of The Arabian Nights; Frank Herbert’s Direct Descent is about a library planet; novella is the best length for SF; Night Ride and Other Journeys by Charles Beaumont, a “writer’s writer” who wrote for The Twilight Zone; Christopher Moore’s The Serpent of Venice is an irreverent Shakespeare/Poe mashup.

Tor Books

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #235 – NEW RELEASES/RECENT ARRIVALS

October 21, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #235 – Jesse, Jenny, Tamahome, Luke Burrage, Paul Weimer and Seth Wilson talk about NEW RELEASES and RECENT ARRIVALS.

Talked about on today’s show:
Jenny’s the only woman in the kitchen, many audiobooks by Roald Dahl, The Twits, no Leo Laporte, The WitchesBoy and Going Solo (nonfiction), “piece of cake” (aeronautical term?), maybe we need a kid reviewer, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Other Animal Stories, (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang:  Roald Dahl – screenplay, Ian Fleming – novel), (it wasn’t black and white), You Only Live Twice, Jenny got her grabby hands on The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland #3) by Catherynne Valente and read by Catherynne Valente, play sample here, should authors narrate their own audiobooks? (didn’t Stefan Rudnicki want to narrate John Crowley’s Little, Big?), Jesse again mentions the mystery/science fiction novel Golden Fleece by Robert J. Sawyer, ‘Radium age sf’ books (Jesse was saying dreamscapeab.com, but I think it’s hilobrow.com?), Theodore Savage by Cicely Hamilton, “monoculture is bad”, (downpour.com is another alternative), Marvel: Spider-Man Drowned in Thunder by Christopher L. Bennett from Graphicaudio in 5.1 surround sound! (how do you sample that?), The Watchmen motion comic (link), “can’t you do 5.1 in dvd?” Luke wonders, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, |READ OUR/SETH’S REVIEW|, conservative women, “magic indistinguishable from science”, Luke’s cut of The Way Of Kings, the ‘Jesse’ unit, paper books, Six Pack o’ Strange Tales by Michael Faun, CaddyshackThe Goliath Stone by Larry Niven and Matthew Joseph Harrington, The One-Eyed Man by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is science fiction, cover controversy, Paul’s Sfsignal interview with L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (has cover), The Lost Prince by Edward Lazellari, Canada is one-way, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher, “Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter”, Star Wars Uncut video collaboration, some text from the Shakespeare Star Wars, Shakespeare is written in blank verse, duh, Joss Whedon can do the movie, Golden Age full cast audio drama (link), infecting dreams, Lumosity brain games and training, The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard includes The Hills Of The Dead, is Solomon like Dresden?, Out Of Time’s Abyss by Edgar Rice Burroughs read by David Stifel, The War Of The Worlds: Global Dispatches edited by Kevin J. Anderson, it’s purely an English invasion, Ender’s Game Alive: The Full-Cast Audioplay by Orson Scott Card (out 10/22/2013), Stefan Rudnicki talked about it on Functional NerdsRepublic Of Thieves by Scott Lynch isn’t out yet (out 10/22/2013), talking like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, The Circle by Dave Eggers, tech thrillers, is Gravity science fiction?,The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, 2012Neil deGrasse Tyson’s critical tweets about Gravity, she cried in space wrong, Kaleidoscope by Ray Bradbury, Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser, Germany says no more, The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 3 Edited by Allan Kaster from Infinivox, Bleeding Edge By Thomas Pynchon is a tech thriller maybe, Star Trek Aurora is sexualized (sounds like Joe Haldeman’s Star Trek books), don’t get mad Paramount, Luke has to eat, Paul Weimer tweets photos.

[Applicants for the two giveaway copies of THE SAVAGE TALES OF SOLOMON KANE should leave a comment with a verifiable factoid about Robert E. Howard (as well as an email address) – the two most interesting factoids, as selected by Jesse, will receive their prizes by mail.]

TANTOR MEDIA - The Savage Tales Of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard

Recent Arrivals from Tor Books

Posted by Tamahome

New Releases

May 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

New Releases

Smoky Mountain Horrors by Weston OchseSmoky Mountain Horrors
By Weston Ochse; Read by Weston Ochse
Audible Download – 4 Hours 47 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Kanigit Media / Audible.com
Published: May 11, 2009
Set mostly in Appalachian country, backwood characters will leave you laughing in pain and gasping in horror. You will learn something new about Weston’s horrific mountain tales every time you listen. They are not for the feint of heart. A collection of short horror stories. Two of the stories available for free HERE.

Tantor - The Coming Of Conan The Cimmerian by Robert E. HowardThe Coming Of Conan The Cimmerian (Book One in the Conan of Cimmeria Series)
By Robert E. Howard; Read by Todd McLaren
14 CDs or 2 MP3-CDs – 16 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Published: June 11th, 2009
ISBN: 9781400112234 (cd) , 9781400162239 (mp3-cd)
Thirteen of Robert E. Howard’s legendary stories starring Conan the barbarian, a swordsman who cuts a swath across the lands of the Hyborian Age, facing powerful sorcerers, deadly creatures, and ruthless armies of thieves and reavers.

Haze
By L.E. Modesitt, Jr.; Read by William Dufris
10 CDs or 1 MP3-CD – 11 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Published: June 25th, 2009
ISBN: 9781400112913 (cd), 9781400162918 (mp3-cd)
A war is about to start between planets in this new science fiction novel by the bestselling author of the Recluce series.

Red Seas Under Red Skies (Book 2 of the Gentleman Bastard series)
By Scott Lynch; Read by Michael Page
20 CDs or 3 MP3-CDs – 25 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Published: June 4th, 2009
ISBN: 9781400110520 (cd), 9781400160525 (mp3-cd)
In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch took us on an adrenaline-fueled adventure with con artist extraordinaire Locke Lamora. Now Lynch brings back his outrageous hero for a caper so death-defying, nothing short of a miracle will pull it off.

From Recorded Books’ SCI-FI AUDIO imprint (First quarter 2009 new releases on CD)…

Rollback
By Robert J. Sawyer; Read by George K.Wilson
9 CDs – 10 Hours 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781436186506
Dr. Sarah Halifax earned worldwide fame for deciphering the first alien message received on Earth. Now nearing the end of her days, she learns that, at long last, the reply has come.

Shaman’s Crossing (Book One of The Soldier Son Trilogy)
By Robin Hobb; Read by
16 CDs – 18.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4361-7968-3
Nevare Burvelle was born to be a
soldier in the Gernian army. But as Nevare’s career takes off, his worldview alters considerably. Corruption and nepotism reign, and now Nevare questions his own ideals, wondering why he continues fighting for the empire.

Fifty Degrees Below
By Kim Stanley Robinson; Read by Richard Ferrone
15 CDs – 18 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4361-8634-6
When the Gulf Stream stalls, dangerously low temperatures grip the Eastern Seaboard and Western Europe. While multinational corporations attempt to exploit the disaster, humankind’s only hope may be a desperate move to dump millions of tons of salt into the ocean.

Mean Streets
By various; Read by various
9 CDs – 9.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4361-9217-0
Featuring New York Times best-selling authors Jim Butcher and Simon R. Green, and national best-selling authors Kat Richardson and Thomas E. Sniegoski, Mean Streets offers four novellas from the hottest names in contemporary paranormal suspense. Running the gamut from demons and werewolves to zombies and black magic, these whodunits crackle with otherworldly secrets, making for a noir collection with an extra set of fangs.

Fool’s Experiment
By Edward M. Lerner; Read by George K.Wilson
10 CDs – 11.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781436164849
As a NASA engineer, critically acclaimed author Edward M. Lerner developed a background in science and technology perfectly suited to his fast-paced SF thrillers. In Fools’ Experiments, the military-industrial complex unwittingly unleashes a devastating threat to humanity after government programmers experiment with viruses and worms. But what escapes is no ordinary computer virus, and when the deadly artificial life-form reaches the Internet, humanity’s very existence is at stake.

From Recorded Books’ SCI-FI AUDIO imprint (Second quarter 2009 new releases on CD)…

Forest Mage (Book Two of the Soldier Son Trilogy)
By Robin Hobb; Read by John Keating
22 CDs – 19 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781436179706
Nevare Burvelle has survived major combat and is making a quick recovery from a disease plaguing his fellows in the King’s army. He also believes he is free from the Speck magic that held him under its sway. Now traveling home to rendezvous with his fiancée, Nevare suffers haunting visions and soon realizes that malicious magic still resides within him—and is intent on destroying everything he holds dear.

Brightness Reef
By David Brin; Read by George K.Wilson
20 CDs – 17 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781436179744
Persecuted refugees from six separate alien races have migrated to the idyllic planet Jijo. And despite their incredible diversity, the inhabitants live together in blissful harmony. However, settlement on Jijo is illegal—and it’s only a matter of time before the residents of this forbidden paradise are discovered by the galactic powers-that-be.

Iron Sunrise
By Charles Stross; Read by George Guidall
11 CDs – 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781440710575
PlanetMoscow is vaporized by an unnatural star explosion, prompting those who escaped to counterattack the likely culprit—planet New Dresden of the neighboring system.
But New Dresden wasn’t to blame, and as worlds go to war, an unseen enemy labors to destroy the universe itself.

Counting Heads
By David Marusek; Read by Kevin R. Free
13 CDs – 14 Hours 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4361-8640-7
The debut novel from highly regarded short-story author David Marusek, Counting Heads pushes the limits of the genre. Life in the year 2134 is nearly perfect, with nanotechnology and medical science granting people near immortality. But when Sam Harger is flagged as a terrorist, his powerful wife dies in a plane crash, and his daughter’s cryogenically frozen head becomes a sought-after prize, Sam must fight to save the human race from a secret cabal.

The Fabulous Riverboat (Riverworld Saga, Book 2)
By Philip José Farmer; Read by
10 CDs – 12 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4361-8636-0
The Fabulous Riverboat tells of a world where all of humanity has been mysteriously resurrected on the banks of one mighty river. Samuel Clemens (a.k.a.MarkTwain) is tasked with finding a fallen meteorite and using its ore to build a massive riverboat. But in order to succeed, he’ll have to outwit some of history’s most nefarious villains.

Into Looking Glass
By John Ringo; Read by L.J. Ganser
10 CDs – 12 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books / Sci-Fi Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781440710612
When a subatomic physics experiment causes a massive explosion, interdimensional gateways open in Florida—and aliens pour out. Some intend to bring Earth to its knees. Others seem willing to help, but will annihilate the planet if Navy SEAL Command Master Chief Robert Miller can’t stop the menace from spreading.

And from Recorded Books’ new “Mystery” imprint…

The Somnambulist
By Jonathan Barnes; Read by John Curless
9 CDs – 11 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books Mystery
Published: 2009
ISBN: 978143618066-5
Set amidst Victorian London’s seamy, fog-shrouded underworld. Meet Edward Moon, an illusionist and detective who operates solely with the aid of his hulking, mute sidekick.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #026

February 23, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #026 – Jesse and Scott argue about how long books should be, talk about audiobooks, audio panels, Audible’s new audio format (higher quality). We also ask the questions:

“If Stephen King was your dad and reading you a bedtime story, would you ever get to sleep?” and “Why does Epic Fantasy have to be so long?”

Talked about on today’s show:
Science Fiction Symposium @ BYU, Writing Excuses podcast, Brandon Sanderson, I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, The Immortals by Tracy Hickman, The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame Vol. 1, Elantris |READ OUR REVIEW|, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., David Farland, Eric James Stone, James Dashner, Orson Scott Card, Audible’s new Enhanced Audio Format, Blackstone Audio‘s forthcomings: new Harlan Ellison (and old), Stir Of Echoes by Richard Matheson, Passage by Connie Willis, Bellwether by Connie Willis, CBC Radio Between The Covers, Wake by Robert J. Sawyer, Battlestar Galactica, the Story Speiler podcast, And All The Earth A Grave by C.C. MacApp, The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill |2 FREE STORIES|, Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill, On Writing by Stephen King, Telling Lies For Fun And Profit by Lawrence Block, Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle |READ OUR REVIEW|, Escape From Hell, Wikipedia is full of spoilers, Exit Door Leads In by Philip K. Dick [is full of swearing], The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet: Philip K. Dick |PDF|, Starship Rebel by Mike Resnick |READ OUR REVIEW|, and a 5 sound review of Babylon 5, A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin, Wild Cards would make good audio, HBO’s True Blood, is it all ‘too much conversation, not enough sword?’

Posted by Jesse Willis