Red Mars, pretty good

Red Mars was a decent scifi novel about how we get to Mars. It starts with choosing who goes, and of course, they choose a bunch of scientists and engineers because they have to figure out a lot of stuff when they get there. No space tourists- so if you want to be one of the first to get to Mars, you gotta be able to contribute something to helping make Mars habitable. 

Lesson 1: Society is important. The main thing that surprised me was how crazy some of the scientists were. The characters were well written and true to many scientists that I’ve met. John Boone, is the lead guy. He’s the most solid, easygoing, and charming. Actually, on reflection, this mirrors what I experienced at school. All the lesser scientists were ambitious and petty, and it totally causes havoc on the resulting civilization. The guys at the top of the chain, the smartest kids, were the most well adjusted, nice and helpful people I ever met. The ones that weren’t at the top would talk smack be super competitive, try to get an edge on their competition in any way they could… but they just didn’t understand that the other guys were just being themselves. The guys at the top weren’t competing, they were just gifted and they worked hard, and that was it. They didn’t worry about competing so much as just doing the best they could. So the exploration’s social structure is mirrored in this book, which is surprising. So this relationship, society stuff was the biggest takeaway for me. The smart people that sent these guys up there, they didn’t realize that they had to re-engineer society and make it so that people were collaborative.  They weren’t so smart after all, because they couldn’t figure out how to make everyone get along for the greater good of the colony.  The rise of police states and disordered labor camps is the culmination of their myopically fractured society. The telling line for me is when things are hitting the roof due to miscalculation of the weather and the terraformer Sax tells the geologist Ann about her analysis “WHY didn’t you tell me? I wouldn’t have done it this way!” 

Going to Mars really represents the holy grail of humanity but the civilization has to be managed.Once people are out there, they are stuck and its just like prison if the conditions aren’t right. For the first explorers, that’s not the case, but for the later people who are sent to work, mine and terraform– they didn’t realize that life on the frontier isn’t easy and that there’s probably no going back to Earth once you get here. So for people who idealize going to Mars, this book tells you that getting there isn’t going to be glamorous and life won’t be easy, so you probably will be there until the end. That being said, the technical aspects and how things work on Mars was completely awesome and insane. I was entranced by the way they engineered the space elevator, new cities, and terraform methods.  As an engineer, I think going to Mars would be totally awesome, and the challenge would be life-consuming but worth. What better test of your engineering merit? What better way to do science than to live it on another planet?

The outcasts, the first book of the Brotherband Chronicles by John Flanagan

One word for this book, and the beginning of the series: AWESOME.

Its been a while since I read it over the summer, but thought I’d log it in since I plan on reading the other books in the Brotherband Chronicles Series. The characters are very well fleshed out in this novel, starting with the main character, Hal. (The name has special meaning for me, as an AI scientist and technology person.  Its also the name of a few of may favorite people!) So, first off, great setup. Hal is an orphan who is half Araluen and half Skandian, and has been an outcast all his life. His mentor and best friend, Thorn, was at the top of his game before misfortune set in, and is now also an outcast. Hal’s peer and best friend, Stig, has an uncontrollable temper. The three of them, along with a few other outcast kids, are left to fend for themselves when their society turns them out. There are a few other kids who were thrown into Hal’s crew,each with a quirk that makes them an outcast: Edvin is just average, Ingvar is big but optically short-sighted, Jesper is a thief, Stefan is a joker, and the arguing/annoying twins Ulf and Wulf. This unlikely crew ends up becoming the underdogs in a training competition with all the other kids in their age group. During the competition, the kids learn that they’ll never fit in because they are just too different from the norm.  In the course of building a ship, and living on the seas however, the small band of brothers ends up developing camaraderie and trust among each other.  The best parts are watching Hal grow into a natural leader, and all the others learning how to use their unique gifts to become the best at the competition.  My favorite lines are when Ulf and Wulf trade quips, as when they try to frame each other just to mess around. 

I also found the adults in the story refreshingly distinct– they weren’t all just saying “No don’t do X” but they each had interesting insights and surprising motives in how they prodded the kids along. So some of you might say, “but that relationship building and dialogue stuff is BORING” but the highlight of this book is that the character building provides the icing for the technical adventures the heroes embark upon. The book was a rush and I give it 5 smiles, and plan to read the next book soon.

Who is responsible in Kill Decision


Moving is terrible. So after we finally started unpacking, I got to settle down finally with a new book.  Kill Decision was recommended by someone I respect, and I decided to read it. It was good, especially once the plot got underway after the Wiki-pedia-esque articles in the beginning. I liked the storyline and characters, but ended up trying to figure out what really happened at the end. It took me two times to read about what happened to Ritter, and I still don’t know who was behind the attacks. Still, it was a good read, although a bit nebulous. Responsible parties never get their due.

Reading books like this one will make you paranoid about every little thing you do online. Be careful using you Amazon gift card or when  reloading it, some shadowy organization might be tracking everything you buy, know how much you have to spend, and target your life aspirations based on your demographics. For example, they’ll start targeting your email address with things that influence your life (e.g. anniversary coming up, pop the questions?? Hmmm…. I read that Target did something like this, and consumers wre creeped-out!

 

The bookends for Ranger Apprentices

So, I couldn’t just leave the series, because I enjoyed the previous books so much. I ended up reading this one in a rush, too, just to get my fix on the characters. The short stories were fun, and tied off some loose ends nicely. However, I was a bit sad that there would be no more wild adventures.  That being said, the author cleverly inserted an advertisement for the next series he’s writing “The Brotherband Chronicles.” So I’ll have to see how those do for intricate plot and world building.  The funniest thing about the Rangers Apprentice Series that I still remember are some of the conversations between the characters. One of my favorite parts was when Will says some negative things about Crowley’s hide and then he says, “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” and of course, he is. Then ofcourse, Crowley gets him back during his graduation ceremony with t he “You go on now, look for that oakleaf pin on the floor.” The hijinx were very funny, and I can’t think of another book series where there were so many digs  between characters. No one was spared.

The last full book in the Rangers Apprentice Series

It was a perfect end to the series, with more friends being made and each lead character becoming more strong, able, and confident than they were before they started.  Usually, when i read books with lots of main characters, I have trouble remembering  who each person is. however, with these  books, the character development has been so deep that each person’s facets shine brightly and influence their actions so consistently that I have no trouble.    

The emperor of nihon-ja was refreshing, even though it was the 10th book on these characters. The introduction of yet another culture, the Japanese, was a terrific angle.  Also, the contrast in fighting styles between western and eastern techniques, and the tactics used to fortify the battlefield positions was worth reading. I truly enjoyed the strategic discussions about the lay of the land, the mentality of the soldiers, and the comparisons between good leaders and bad ones.  The tensions between Alyss and Evanlyn escalate as they journey across on a diplomatic mission together, and they finally confront each other over their feelings for Will. What’s not to like?  Everyone in the book has an amazing adventure, and the final battle is worth reading over if only for the learning about how different warrior strategies would fare against each other.  Fascinating descriptions of battle on a foreign terrain, and through it all, the relationships between all the characters become more true and close.  

These books are unlike the ones I read by Hobb, Tolkien, and others. Instead of narrowing in on one person, Flanagan’s books tend to fill out the world and develop the shared memories, histories, and strengths of the characters.  I couldn’t believe I had read all 10 books within two weeks.

Whoaa! halt in danger?

This was amazing for the fighting in the creepy dead forest.  Whoa-nelly. The tension when they are hunting the assassins was so thick I couldn’t put the book down.  Literally, I was glued to the series of events from the time they started tracking the assassins, to the injury, and to will’s resolution of the situation in the end. Will’s turn in character at the last knife flight was startling, as he is now showing signs of his efficiency and level headed thinking about enemies. No longer can I read the book and think of Will as a kid, he really becomes a young man as he rides and fights for someone he cares about. I guess that’s the mark of adulthood, when one begins to think beyond the self and sacrifices all they can for another’s well being.  It was a beautiful story about a mentee saving his mentor’s life, and the lengths that we’ll all go through for those who have taught us well.  Another beautiful part of the story is the inclusion of the sorcerer, Malcolm, in this series. He added a great does of non-warrior humanity, bringing the perspective of the reader closer to the plot and understanding the unique circumstances that the others live by. The earthquake and fireworks at the end were spectacular! A must read on the way to completing the series.

Started with this one

So I started reading the series with book 8, and it was so good that I ended up going back and reading the whole 10-part series, including the summary short stories.  As soon as I was introduced to the world of the Rangers, and how they survive, I was mesmerized. I was also impressed to hear that they actually do have “Ranger Camps” where young teenagers can learn the art of unseen movement, knife tactics and other survival skills. Sounds like a great time. I think the most memorable aspect for me about this book, after months have passed, is how Halt, will and Horace ribbed each other. When Horace says that he doesn’t imagine a ranger could ever lie, he also cheekily mentions the time Halt told him that some ladies wearing skimpy outfits were messengers. The way it was said though, you could tell that Horace is getting even with Halt about not believing that Halt had a particularly high rank. It also reminded me of one of my favorite conversations between the two of them that was essentially an echo of “What?” “what?”… etc. I cried tears, it was so funny.