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 /
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.
Talked about on today’s show:
Or How We Got Along After The Bomb, a Nebula Award Nominee?, why this novel?, Now Wait For Last Year, The Man In The High Castle, the ideas are awesome, confusingly written, before the bomb, the earlier atomic blast, jumping back and forth without warning, a subtle change, quasi-flashbacks, a straightforward timeline, jumping between the characters, head hopping, Hoppy Harrington, the Dick themes, Bill’s ability, getting confused, body-switching, consciousness projection, who is Bill?, the parasitic twin brother, Beyond Lies The Wub, the captain is gone, a theme in this story (other than with Bill), telekinetic ability, taking Walt Dangerfield’s place, a weird comedy bit, impressions, is anybody in that satellite at all?, it sounds like him, is Hoppy dead?, he went to Heaven (the satellite), the audiobook narrator’s (Tom Weiner’s) interpretation, bad writing?, dear god!, psychoanalysis, creepy, a mad god resentful of his treatment, the killing of Bluthgeld, something very cool going on, the reason we read Philip K. Dick novels, the Philip K. Dick radio (and other audio interviews), Dick was easily manipulated, you’re an alcoholic, getting into jewelry, a super-impressionable guy, a Zelig, a very human thing (multiplied), Jesse has reviewed himself out, Jesse’s review of Dr. Bloodmoney: a radio repairman with no limbs…, a big fish in a small pond, what Dick knows, an avid mushroom picker, interacting with themselves, a talking sheepdog, Stuart McConchie’s horse, cheating wives, the dog, the rat that plays a nose-flute, he stole the story … but it became part of him (and thus his story), he is a part of her, he is literally inside of her, when someone tells you a story…, classic Dick touches, Cheyenne, a pastoral existence, like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge, they’re crunching their granola, playing video games while listening to audiobooks, Fallout 3, full of mutants, a bit of racism, the second novel with a phocomelus protagonist, Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny, supernatural powers, some life crisis, lifts from stories, The Great C, Of Withered Apples, “In Earth’s Diurnal Course”, a title for marketing, Dr. Strangelove, Bluthgeld as Henry Kissinger, Operation Paperclip, Robert McNamara, bone viruses, gooks, the half-baked, Marissa’s Fallout game, post-nuclear war, E-Day (Emergency Day), starts and ends on a morning, one of PKD’s tricks, Vulcan’s Hammer, Now Wait For Last Year, re-resonance, mutants going about their business, thing about the freaks, being that had been fused together, kind of beautiful, the rat pulling a little cart, one of the rat traps is also scurrying, the pizza rat meme, food and other essentials, radiation tablets, the mutants will be fine, the cats, cats start planning and scheming, Paul’s pic of the Roman cat, Mike Cole, ancient history, dancing pigeons, it sang for it’s supper, ruins inhabited by cats, Villa Appia, a rabbit, rabbits in the ruins, Hoppy’s plan, Looper, telekinetic powers, Hoppy is kind of like the Rainmaker, he heals a watch-spring, Galactic Pot-Healer, a technopath, recycling ideas, School For Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough, Brian K. Vaughn’s Ex Machina, the power to command mechanical objections, superhero comics, consistency, Mr. Pistorius (gets murdered), Bluthgeld is insane right?, does he have abilities?, if there is a viewpoint character… Mary Sueing?, Dick is Bluthgeld, we get deep inside his mind, the switch between dialogue and inner monologue, responsibility, his mistaken calculation, you can take it ambiguously, a catalyst for changing the world, his name, Dick likes German names, Mister Jack Tree, Mister Tree, jackfruit, the story of Odin (hung on a tree for nine days), myster tree?, there’s something central about him, undercooked, Hoppy’s desires and plans drive the plot, goals and ambitions, did Hoppy cause the war?, why am I eating this rat?, money is useless, a hoarder, cigarettes, coffee, Philip K. Dick predicted video games, the bottlecaps (are money), a haorder style game, Stuart McConchie is a modern game player, crafting, the boss, a real life boss, very autobiographical, did Dick know an armless and legless person?, Dick’s obsession with his dead twin sister, the whole “I can see into the land of the dead” thing, monstrous children, rock paper scissors, an angry little child, a snail, real senses, the owl, into Hoppy, where did Hoppy go?, into Dangerfield, Dangerfield had something growing inside him, California, so sad, his wife’s still up there with him, another drug overdose, marriage, Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Little Movement by Philip K. Dick, Toy Story, Jesse explains the plot of The Little Movement, kinda freaky, an alien invasion fleet, the other toys, the kid is freaked out, everything is going wrong, a very dark Toy Story, by breaking the fourth wall he’s broken a rule, “that’s this book, kinda”, …because I like Germans, so many cool ideas, confusing, so many people, the central axis of what’s happening, Bonnie’s sleeping around, typical PKD wife stuff, petty office politics after the end of the world, post-apocalyptic travel is hard, Russians and Japanese on Catalina, on the other hand…, it’s not all bad, he’s going to automate his cigarette stuffing, hippies hanging out and doing hippy stuff, more about the alcohol, this podcast is petering out, sorry Mr. PKD, it’s not a great book, not the greatest bull-session ever, that sheep dog with no money, catch the stick, good comedy, kind of tragic, he is a monster (but you feel for him), a really good set-up, he got mistreated, surviving and not becoming bitter about it, Dangerfield isn’t bitter, what do they do in Russia, maybe there’s a bunch of other satellites up there, why did this get a Nebula nomination?, we are happy to have read it, whatever’s next on out list…
Posted by Jesse Willis
Talked about on today’s show:
thinking about doors, individual phenomena, a phenomenological way, white and purity, water, Edmund Husserl, an intensional act of consciousness, the conquistadors, when did WWII happen?, what kind of a phenomenon is a door?, doors are artificial, Narcissus and the lake, a boundary, passages for the whole body, windows, two-way passages, quicksand, horizontal movement, four qualities, the story of Oedipus, the riddle of the Sphinx, man -> mankind, the founding myth of Western culture, Aristotle, from one world to another, Eric in his professorial mode, the word world, were = man, the age of Man, in the world of…, the social domain that human beings create for themselves, prisons, doors as phenomena are artificial boundaries between two different worlds, social changes from one side of a door to another, doors as a phenomenon represent changes from consciously defined worlds, outdoors vs. indoors, inside and outside the gingerbread house, the morning thesis, the idea for this show, windows as opposed to doors, The Wonderful Window by Lord Dunsany, wanting to turn windows into doors, a rich example, sliding doors vs. sliding windows, in Science Fiction…, Robert A. Heinlein, defining the writing style of Science Fiction, the ideal Science Fiction sentence, Beyond This Horizon, “The door dilated and a voice from within said ‘Come in Felix.'”, wasting energy, one little change makes it a Science Fiction world, Heinlein invented the word “slideway”, Friday, from the reader’s armchair world it the fantastic world, folklore, liminality, crossing rivers, wandering into the forest, a wild world with gods and monsters, agrarian rural society -> industrial living, the wardrobe, The Door In The Wall, The Gable Window by H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, Dreams In The Witch-house, a locked-room mystery, The Secret Garden, a Wellsian door in the wall, what’s behind the door could be anything, mythical monsters, vampires need your permission to cross your threshold, Dracula comes in through the window, defying gravity and the phenomenology of windows, an instant subliminal marker, ho ho ho, Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe, the lore of changelings, leaving the house by the chimney, Little Red Riding Hood, “dispatched by typical female means” (cooking), Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, Alice is fantasizing before she leaves the bank of the river, the river side is a liminal domain, dazing, daisies, crossings, protective imagination, opening the door for a sequel, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, a girl named Door, London’s underclass, being homeless is living outdoors, a hunter named Hunter, Door’s father is Lord Portico, a door back into Heaven, another rich text, worlds within worlds, the word hinge, ideas hinge upon something, stiles aren’t like doors, stiles don’t have hinges, lichgates and side doors to churches, the dead enter the church through a different door than the living, The Superstitious Man’s Tale by Thomas Hardy, shades of everybody, fourteen saints, a holiday in Germany, the blood of a sacrificial lamb, Exodus, keeping death from the door, all saints day, Jack-O-Lanterns scare off the returning dead, nature, walking through a gate, spirits pass through, how do gates function in keeping out the spirits of the dead, gates as territorial boundaries, “you come in through here”, the laws of territoriality, a keeper of the gate, the gate is the cover of the book, the door is what we cross “Once upon a time…”, “the second page of the first paragraph of a famous book”, why round?, why the exact center?, why green?, Eric’s eyes are green, The Door In The Wall has a green door, magic doors are often green,
The Magic Door The Green Door (aka The Little Green Door) by Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman, horrible and messy and smelly, fundamental jokes in the Shrek series, Shrek is green too, kids love farts, About Time (2013), Domhnall Gleeson going through doors, “doors are amazing”, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, the Chinese Scholar’s garden at Snug Harbour cultural center, moon gates, gates post signs, gates offer viewpoints, from The Haunted Palace by Edgar Allan Poe:
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.
the mouth as a door for voice and wisdom (and later a gate for flies and maggots), orifices, doors are artificial, eyes as windows, windows as natural, calm water as a window, the night sky as a window into the universe, window = wind and eye, a metaphor switching meaning, a heart is like a pump and a pump is like a heart, Babylon 5, star-gates, the Twilight Zone show inside Futurama: The Scary Door, Fredric Brown: “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. there was a knock on the door.”, William F. Nolan’s the door problem, a seventy-foot bug, the imagination trumps revelation, film, Shiley Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House (in the book and the film), banging vs. knocking, the unopened door, the end of The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, The Psychoanalysis Of Fire by Gaston Bachelard, “fire: fine servant, horrible master”, poor little rich boys, the ultimate irony: Arbeit Macht Frei, an open gate, the phenomena interpenetrate, Rubicon (lost and found), The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, “h amount of fuel will not power an EDS with a mass of m plus x”, uni-directional time travel as a kind of rubicon, Julius Caesar’s crossing, Alea iacta est (“The die is cast”), suicide, Jean Paul Sartre, Rip van Winkle, rubicons are natural, driving in Los Angeles county, counties and shires divided by rivers, the mouth as a (mostly) one way door into the body, Protector by Larry Niven, the tree of life root is a one way door (a rubicon), The King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, The Ring, the River Styx, ancient heroes and gods crossing back and forth across the river Styx, biological machines, Jesus Christ’s tomb door, a locked room mystery, doubting Thomas, The Cold Equations as a demarcation between materialist SF and all other kinds, rejecting the premise of the story, two kinds of laws, “Marilyn willingly walks into the airlock and is ejected into space.”, myth vs. hard Science Fiction vs. soft Science Fiction, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams, a few examples in literature, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, seven gates to Hell in Pennsylvania, Hell, Michigan, Audie Murphy’s To Hell And Back, a rubicon as an irrevocable choice, The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, Will cutting portals to other realms, “the ability to create portal given to someone on the cusp of puberty”, age 21 (given the key to the door), Key to the city, garter -> gate, barbicans, walled homes in the northern Mediterranean, doors within doors, protected by the laws of the city, the freedom of the city given to military units, Janus -> January, a two faced god and the god of doors, the doors to the temple of Janus are closed, open cities, Brussels, the locking of doors, growing up in New York you’re never fully at peace, living in Strawberry Point, Iowa, wifi open vs. wifi encrypted, wardriving, keeping the door open, the subspecies, dutch-doors, squeaky hinges, a door that opens up, China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, “falling backwards into a world in which a consciousness extends infinitely in all directions”, “the phenomenology changes the epistemology”, ontological differences, The Star Rover by Jack London, a portal to other places and times via astral projection, even in confinement one can find ways out,
The Demolished Man The Stars My Destination, Hypnos by H.P. Lovecraft, the restriction of the coffin of the body, jaunting, The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, The Twilight Zone episode The Hunt, a country bumpkin -> a rural American, all dogs go to heaven, gatekeepers and doorkeepers, porter, the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, wine drinkers and beer drinkers, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, was anything down that hatch on Lost?
Posted by Jesse Willis
Talked about on today’s show:
1966, in the high end, if you want to know what Philip K. Dick writes, it has everything, interplanetary, pretty-earthbound, marriage issues, resonances with other novels, Eric Sweetscent, a nice Dick protagonist, touchy relationship stuff, “misogynist”, he loves women too much, his “headbasher”, The Search For Philip K. Dick, when he was ending their relationship, impotence, psychoology, a husband-father formula, a teenage alternate girlfriend, Eric is so sweet and so sympathetic, an evil bitch destroying the relationship, sympathetic and pathetic, addiction, JJ-180, drugs, time travel, the robot goes with her, robants, the secret service agents, the bill collector robant, the cab robant, “Sir, we’re not allowed to get married”, the robant that wants a bribe, Total Recall, the secretary with the fingernails that change colour, nude breasts with dye and sparkles, a decorative secretary, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Blade Runner, wheels, a confusing start, using amoebas to make stuff?, Wash30 = Washington 1930, the Philip K. Dick Fans site, none of this stuff is possible, the print amoeba, really cool writing, “in bed alone”, potent spirits of the past, a graveyard, describing space, is Cheyenne underground?, writing Wyoming again, NORAD?, dialogue vs. description, a nice state capital, “he was enjoying the sight of her dressing”, Lillistar’s secret police, creepy, the Reegs, Gino Molanri, a single medal on his uniform, that’s Hitler!, Gino Molinari is Mussolini, the Earth is Italy and the Star Men are the Nazis, Mussolini is not Hitler, the first fascist dictator, Rimmer from Red Dwarf, not racism but power and glory, when the Americans and the Canadians and the British invade Italy, the soft underbelly of Europe, why Molinari is getting sick, Mussolini’s alpine prison, Otto Skorzeny, rescue/liberate, “Hey, Hitler!”, Molonari is a smart Mussolini, the Reegs are nice, we look like the star-men but we have more in common with the reegs, Tony And The Beetles, telepathic females, one of the weirdest Philip K. Dick stories, a weird ending, the racist father, a frightening story, The Father-Thing, Hansel and Gretel without Gretel: The Cookie Lady, a really creepy story, a quasi sequel or a dry run for Now Wait For Last Year, the same themes, grapefruit sized baseball heavy plastic brains, the lazy brown dogs, the Martian print amoeba, from another Dick story, Colony and Beyond Lies The Wub, attacks by microscopes and towels, “I trusted the rug completely.”, camouflage aliens, when Cathy has her first trip, the history of their tech, matching furs, Virgil, he destroyed the fur industry, killing amoebas is ok?, the fur bearing animals are saved, “furs, that’s the best thing you can think of to do?”, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, monad lazy brown dogs, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, are they dog brains?, fur is not alive in the first place, brains are plastic, both meanings, non-living brains, half a cent, so sweet, super sweet, their attacking each other, animal nature, they are as much alive as we are, their god is black, Himmel = heaven, the martian bat guano business, Molan-air-e, Wash-35, collecting stuff, authentic artifacts, The Thirteenth Floor, and Eye In The Sky, Time Out Of Joint, artificial towns, recreated towns, recapturing youth, a rich person’s game, Pitts39, the robant was lying… wasn’t it?, who is the liar?, strange and weird, a similar character in Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, a flawed god, his unsightly body, shambling, a pathetic figure, it does something to the whole book, first the book takes the shape and then at the end it is fixed, there’s a little animal at the end of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, all this ersatz, Jonas, as dead as a robant, suicide, Tijuana, the absurdity of their jobs, seeing to it that factory-rejects got their place in the sun, “I love this stuff”, strong resonances, Wash35 is a 135 year old man recreating a frozen moment in time, time is NOT frozen, Dick has it every which way, “do you object to a stereotape…”, the orchestra isn’t there, all you possess is 1,200 feet of iron-oxide tape, we live with illusion daily, The Iliad is as much a fake as the robant children trading stamps, old-age making its dread appearance, “have an affair with me doctor”, The Cosmic Puppets, set in Virginia, Dick recreating his childhood, remembering the details, alternate presents, a cloud of possibilities, Tijuana Fur and Dye, “Mrs. Sweetscent, sweetheart”, when Cathy destroys the comedian recordings, Dick’s got some awesome recording…, by the way about that American Weekly with that article on the Sargasso Sea…, the Hearst newspapers, an empty cigarette package, antiques are the mcguffin for The Man In The High Castle, he’s right! we don’t live in the present, tweeting dreams, the internet is more reliable than the sun, it’s always on, the internet never goes off, we are living in a weird illusionary reality, when Cathy gets Korsakoff’s syndrome, all these elements that almost completely come together, the gel doesn’t completely set, there’s so much love for Cathy, the robot says he’s a good man, getting into the female character’s mind, he’s a boob man, so much empathy for people, hate and spite, she’s so mad, a movie star named Marm, the microwave dings, my purpose is to make your life a living hell, “good luck with that”, totally re-readable, I would love it again, we had no idea, what is with Molinari getting diseases from his staff?, his zipper was open, he kills people, we don’t know what’s true about him, he’s using his diseases, pulling a sick-day to avoid meetings, a plot device, sympathy pains, hypochondria, empathizing, the uber-empathizer, Bill Clinton felt your pain, literally, JJ-180 is the main character of this book, playing rope-a-dope with the Star-men, brain-freeze, Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, Starman (1984), Return To Lilliput, every toddler’s dream, the war like Lilliputians, little Napoleons, we’re getting pushed around by little tiny people, taking slave labour from Earth, so we can win this war, whether the illnesses are real or not they are a great strategy, you can’t have Italy fighting on your side unless you’ve got Mussolini, Molinari is finding the middle ground, admirable, thinking the way Nixon is thinking in the Vietnam War, as we re-experienced with Iraq and Afghanistan, slow or fast peeling a band-aid, a self inflicted wound, an exploratory examination, “Molinari you are awesome”, Molinari is the hero, he saves Eric Sweetscent, so many good resonances, thinking while listening, why this isn’t the best ever Philip K. Dick novel ever.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The SFFaudio Podcast #342 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, and David Stifel discuss the audiobook of Beyond Thirty by Edgar Rice Burroughs (narrated by David Stifel)
Talked about on today’s show:
All-Around Magazine, 1916, a peek into 1916s subconscious, not even really a novel, a future history, reading the dispatches from the Western Front, mechanized war, how WWI was affecting consciousness, spiraling into barbarism, J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout, Genesis Of The Daleks, a simple plot, a very relaxing book, a mediation, what is Burroughs’ conclusion?, boringly peaceful, excruciatingly peaceful, an American Libertarian utopia, the corrupting influence of civilization, Europe has blown itself back to the stone age, the Lusitania, the Spanish American War, Cuba, the Philippines, 175 east, 30 west, the Monroe doctrine, the Zimmerman Telegram, a moment of the American psyche captured in time, 1913-1921, push pull of expansionism and isolationism, the Japanese are the British of Asia, the Japan Russia war, the story of Pearl Harbor before Pearl Harbor, the cruiser Maine explosion, Yellow Journalism, “Screw Spain and Remember the Maine”, the novel’s premise is kind of crazy and yet…, Crime Think, historical precedent, Zheng He’s treasure ships, China, Japan, Korea, the Hermit Kingdom, Perry, global village, provincialism, American policy on Cuba, taboos end, we’ve bought into the premise, tigers and lions in England, tigers in Africa, Simba the Lioness (nee the Tigress), the Tigers and Lions and Elephants of London, the African veldt in England, a setting for a planetary romance, Beyond The Farthest Star, Caspak, Tarzan, the Mars and Venus books, the gravity shield, the airship/submarines, the narrator is extremely naive, a sequel that wasn’t written, hanging threads, being a slave, Burroughs’ subconscious is all over the page, the U.S. Civil War, Birth Of A Nation, some of the racism, they are essentially the Romans, the Asian empire, the Yellow Peril and the Black Menace, all the white women sent off to the evil emperor’s harem, what did we think of Queen Victory?, more spunk than Deja Thoris, John Carter (2012), the Tharks, a flea jumping around, we could have a Woola sequel, a Minion movie, the Ralph Bakshi Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings in a week, Beyond Thirty would make a good comic book, the literacy of the Abyssinian, our hero is from Arizona, Beyond 175 would be the sequel, recolonizing England as a sequel?, “chastened and forgiven Europe”, Buckingham the Brute, they don’t even have fathers any more, 200 years of devolution, the sunken depths, “it may as well as have been nuked”, “stay out of this mess, Europe is doomed”, died at his desk, tigers and lions sitting on the throne, “Burroughs not a symbolism guy he’s a Roddenberry guy”, the two Gene Roddenberry pilots from the 1970s, Andromeda, Planet Earth, Genesis 2, the DVDs, the Earth is going to be fine, lamenting the lack of war, worried about footpads, remember Teddy Roosevelt, Bully!, manly escapades, a pan-American peace, target practice, Voltaire’s Candide, “that Volatire guy”, Manifest Destiny and the American Wild West, Europe as the new frontier, he’s the new Columbus, interesting animals, everyone in Pan-America speaks Pan-Am (English), the cultural memory loss in Europe and the language gain in South America is kind of suspicious, Hispanic names, homogenization, L. Sprague deCamp’s Viagens Interplanetarias, Brazilian Portuguese, Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, Firefly, a hidden history, a constriction, that’s my head cannon (?), antelopes all over Europe, just Africa transported north, a very relaxing book, enjoying Burroughs like a vacation, not a lot a depth, very little symbolism, its fun, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes, David is speaking with the Burroughs estate, running out of public domain Burroughs, a huge stockpile of Burroughs still under copyright, not counting the mundane worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1923-1949, the Caspak series, Amtor, he built himself a rocketship, the Venus series, a tropical rainforest, a sidebar, S.M. Stirling’s re-imagining of the Mars and Venus books, red-striped tigers, bird-people, and a beautiful princess, it’s his thing, this romance thing, The Outlaw Of Torn, his take on the Three Musketeers, brute strength and manly men, Under The Moons Of Mars, from the early 1930s, Pirates Of Venus, Lost On Venus, like the first three Mars books.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Aftermath: Star Wars (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
By Chuck Wendig; Narrated by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: September 04, 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 Hours and 16 Minutes
Themes: / Star Wars / rebels / empire /
The second Death Star has been destroyed, the emperor killed, and Darth Vader struck down. Devastating blows against the Empire and major victories for the Rebel Alliance. But the battle for freedom is far from over.
As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance – now a fledgling New Republic – presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial star destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.
Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former Rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world – war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’ urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is – or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.
Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit – to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies – her technical genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector – who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.
Star Wars Aftermath is the first book of the newly renovated Star Wars timeline to take place after the original movies and it doesn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it. We were enticed by the potential for details of what happens after Return of the Jedi but details of the main heroes are doled out sparingly while the main part of the story involves mostly new characters. This isn’t quite the journey to the Force Awakens I was hoping for.
The main plot follows those new characters, Wedge gets some screen time in there, and we get small glances of the rest of the universe through small little interlude chapters – which are the most interesting parts of the book. We get to find out some hints of interesting things going on elsewhere in the universe and it’s the unclear nature of those hints that make them so interesting.
So what about the main story? It’s fairly standard pulpy Star Wars action that I honestly can’t really remember a whole lot of because nothing particularly stood out. Some of the remnant of the Empire decide to hold a secret meeting somewhere they don’t have firm control (or also not somewhere in deep space) so that Rebels (or New Republic people) could stumble upon them and we could have some nice “stuck on a planet” moments. I’ve seen some criticism of the writing style but I think the main problem this book has is that the plot doesn’t really seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. Besides, I don’t look for fine writing in a Star Wars book anyway – I look for fun and action.
As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson and the sound engineers did a great job as per usual. Thompson does a great range of voices and impressions even though he didn’t really get to use many of those impressions in this book. His Wedge sounds a lot more like Luke but Wedge doesn’t really have as much of persona from the movies anyway. The music and sound effects were great as they usually are in Star Wars productions.
Posted by Tom Schreck