I am a Dan Abnett novice. I’ve never read anything out of the Warhammer 40K universe. This is probably a blessing in disguise. Reading Embedded, I was not polluted by inevitable comparisons to his syndicated work; I could read it wholly in the context of a setting entirely Abnett’s own. As a result, I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Embedded is a tough, near-future, military-sf novel of the highest quality. With a serious story about people caught up in a warzone, Abnett has skillfully created the ultimate eyewitness account of a military struggle that features persuasive allusions to the current situation in Afghanistan and past conflicts in Iraq. In the process he succeeded in creating a very authentic universe with his own blend of unique but not unbelievable military technology, corporate sponsorships and analogous architecture, synthesized food items that taste like the original and even filtered language that is the cause of much amusement throughout the storytelling. It is solid world building with wonderful attention to detail.
Having a journalist’s consciousness embedded into the synapses of a soldier’s brain is an unprecedented innovation and sets up a rite of passage truly comparable to Starship Troopers and The Forever War. Pitch in Abnett’s gripping, engaging and fluent writing style and an uncanny ability for seamlessly connecting the various pieces together with near-perfect timing and pace, it was easy to imagine watching the same grainy, documentary footage shot by embedded reporters so often seen on television. This is a book with movie written all over it!
Embedded starts off slowly, almost a trudge, as if Abnett purposefully wanted to relay just how exceedingly dull and dreary planet Eighty Six seems on its surface. Initially there is very little to engage with. Falk, the main character is, at the outset, a dislikeable, clichéd reporter with boorish and egotistical manners. After about 90 pages though it becomes evident that all is not what it seems to be. Despite the military’s spin on events there is a very ruthless war going on here, but it is not immediately clear why. Abnett sets up various red herrings as possible answers to this enthralling question that demands you stick around ‘till the end. Audaciously, he only reveals the true answers right at the very end after putting the reader through many remarkably anxious combat scenes and the ensuing emotional turmoil of the characters. The relationships between the soldiers and Falk’s own rite of passage after his “host” is shot are written with believable clarity. These character developments are especially satisfying and the particular journey that Falk undergoes totally redefines his character to the extent that he becomes worth following. Ultimately very little remained of the cantankerous and obnoxious Falk I met in those first few pages.
Nothing in the novel felt contrived. Yes, there are some uncomfortable questions raised about the way Abnett presents the “remote controlling” of a corpse but these are soon forgotten once the many action scenes present themselves. With these, Abnett’s adroitness is beyond contention. He has a pronounced skill and flair in creating anticipation, tension and release balanced with immaculate timing, pace and the unexpected. The battle scenes are terrifyingly realistic and intentionally chaotic. War is not a pub brawl and Abnett unquestionably does not treat it lightly.
The novels denouement is arguably its only weak point. Despite everything tying together rather well, lifting the veil on the overarching vagueness, I find the final revelation a bit convenient and a typical science fiction “exit.” But it does not detract from what Abnett ultimately wants to say: that every war, fought for whatever reason, reduces the stock of human good, and diminishes civilization. The last, short chapter brought this home for me.
Embedded is pulsating military-sf, cynical but not jaded, ruthlessly brutal yet intelligent. An impressive and very satisfying read.
Remember learning in school about how the Middle Ages were a time without intelligence, technology or a sense of humor? Consider the curious case of Juanelo Turriano’s (AD 1500-1585) mechanical monk, described here by Elizabeth King:
Slowly the monk comes to life. He turns his head to single out one among the company. Left foot stepping forth from under the cassock hem, then right foot, the monk advances in the direction of his gaze, raising the crucifix and rosary before him as he walks. His eyes move: turning his head, he looks to the raised cross and back to his subject. His mouth opens, then closes, affording a glimpse of teeth and interior. He bends his right arm and with the gathered fingers of his hand he strikes his breast. The small blow is audible. And now he is lowering and turning his head as he walks: the elbow and shoulder in synchronized motion he brings the cross higher, up to his lips, and kisses it. Thirty seconds into the act, he’s taken eight steps, beat his chest three times, kissed the cross, and traveled a distance of twenty inches. At what seems like the last moment—for doubtless the subject of his attention has backed away from the table’s edge—he looks away, arms still aloft, executes a turn to his right, and makes a new appointment. He will make seven such turns and advances in his campaign if the mainspring has been fully wound. The uninterrupted repetition corresponds exactly to a trance-like performance of prayer, incantation.
Found at The Lion and the Cardinal.
I saw this posted over on Whatever and thought I’d mention it here. The 2011 Hugo Voters Packet it now available for members of Renovation, The 69th World Science Fiction Convention. The packet is "an electronic package of nominated works graciously made available to voters by nominees and their publishers."
The packet contains pretty much all the nominated material and includes updates and expansions as they are made available. Take a look at the list of stuff you’ll get in your packet.
Not going to attend Renovation? No problem, you can still get in on the action. You can sign up as a Supporting Member for $50 and get the packet – valued way more than $50 by the way – and you’ll be eligible to vote. That’s a pretty damn good deal and less than you would have to pay for just the novels alone.
So who’s in?
The winners for the 2010 Nebula Award have just been announced. The winner for Best Novel is: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Spectra). Congrats to Connie Willis and all the nominees. My thanks also to the folks who set up the UStream live broadcast of the event. It was great to see it all happen live!
So what do you think of this result? Who were you pulling for?
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great,
And would suffice.
– Robert Frost
As you may or may not know by now, today is the last day…. ever. At least, that’s what Harold Camping and the Family Radio network have been preaching since the last armaggedon failed to appear in 1994. Since this may be our final blog post on this earth, we thought it might be a good time to remember other predictions of our impending doom. Perhaps we can finally settle the question posed by the good Robert Frost a mere 88 years ago. Will the world end in fire or ice?
First up: Walter Miller. His Hugo winning novel A Canticle for Leibowitz is a personal favorite of mine (as you can tell from my avatar). In it, the world undergoes a nuclear holocaust, plunging humanity back into the dark ages where the only shreds of written knowledge are preserved by ascetic monks in the southwestern deserts of North America. This classic features not one but two armageddons, illustrating the futility of technological conflict. He wrote the book as a sort of penance for his involvement in the destruction of Montecassino during World War II. The event left such a scar on his psyche that only beating out this masterpiece could quell it. Miller’s vote: FIRE.
Jack Vance invented the “Dying Earth” sub-genre with his novel, The Dying Earth. Unrecognized in his time, the trendsetting novel has been named one of The Classics of Science Fiction and is included in the Fantasy Masterworks list by the Orion Publishing Group. This Earth of the distant future revolves around a red giant that is inexorably dying out. Like the sun, the human race is also a dim reflection of its former self, relying on the remnants of forgotten technology and magic. Vance was known for the mixing of science fiction and fantasy, and the trope of a massive but cooling sun dominating a now red sky provides a fantastic backdrop for both genres. Though the planet is not quite destroyed in this 1960’s series, its inevitable fate is known. Jack Vance votes ICE. (P.S.: I’ve always wondered whether Jack Vance was the inspiration for Vance Refrigeration in The Office.)
Rarely do we get to see the Earth actually die in a science fiction novel. Sure, it might sustain a few nuclear wars or a couple of extinction events, but it’s hard to continue a story when all of your characters are dead. You can imagine my delight, then, when I re-read H.G. Wells‘ The Time Machine. Sure, everyone rememebers the Morlocks and the Eloi. You might still have a few whispy dreams of the lovely Weena, the Time Travellers demure girlfriend from the year 802,701 A.D. What I forgot, however, was the protagonists final trip to the ends of the Earth (literally). For those who are a little foggy on the details, we’ll fill you in. After rescuing his shorty, the Time Traveller travels another 30 million years into the future, where he witnesses crabs and butterflies sparsely inhabiting blood-red world of simple vegetation. A few jumps later gives us the answer we seek: the Earth’s rotation stops and the sun shrinks away until the earth and everything in it sets in for a deep freeze. For Mr. Wells, that’s a definite ICE.
A few other WWEnd author votes include:
If you want a definitive answer to the way the world ends, you can’t get any closer than This is the way the World Ends, by James Morrow. He nabbed nominations for both the Nebula and Campbell awards, casting his vote for FIRE by way of a nuclear war.
This leaves us with a tie of 3-3, but what do I know? I just picked six books at random. Please add to the list by citing your favorite WWEnd authors, or even authors not yet in our database. Hell, cast your own vote. We just need to break this tie. Please hurry, though. We only have until 6PM before the latest scheduled apocalypse.
I had never heard of Kay or his novels until a few weeks ago, when his Under Heaven was promoted in the WWEnd “featured novel” section. Around the same time a friend of mine expressed an interest in reading Kay’s novels, so while he chose Under Heaven, I decided that The Last Light of the Sun was more up my alley. Vikings hold more interest to me than ancient Chinese culture.
I will state up front that this book frustrated me for the first 150 pages (the total page count is around 500). The narrative followed a number of unrelated characters in that space, and while each plot thread had the potential to become interesting in its own right, none ever did. I was just about to put down the book permanently when a major character was introduced who served to bring all of the disparate plots together and to provide a fascinating story on his own.
The other annoyance is that this novel is set on another planet. Whether or not it’s supposed to exist in our universe, I don’t know. Setting a novel so clearly influenced by real, historical people groups like the Celts, the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons in another world seems entirely frivolous to me. Why do all that historical research only to avoid placing the story in our own history? I was constantly making the mental translation of story names into real-world names: Anglcyn to Anglo-Saxon, Jadism to Catholicism, etc. If Kay calls the faeries faeries, why switch up everything else?
Neither of these problems prevents The Last Light of the Sun from becoming a solid novel of the historical fantasy genre. The writing is solid, the people are (at least eventually) interesting, the world is richly detailed, the battles are well-depicted, and so are the quieter moments. The foreboding sense that the world is changing permanently (perhaps for the worse, perhaps not) is thick and carries with it a note of sadness. Readers of Tolkien will find this to be a familiar song.
Apparently this story is a part of the world of Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic, which I didn’t realize until after I was finished. You don’t need to read that series to understand what’s happening in Last Light, but I am intrigued by the opportunity to further explore this world.
Very few science fiction novels have aroused such controversy over the decades as Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. This militaristic epic, winner of the 1960 Hugo Award, has been accused not merely of glorifying military values but of endorsing fascism to the point that one could say that the Terran Federation is analogous to Nazi Germany. An extreme analysis of course, which in our post-modernist world is terribly unfair, but there is no denying that Starship Troopers is indeed a pseudo-Darwinian rationale for an endless inter-species war of all against all. The novel, as it stands accused by many critics, rapidly degenerates into a series of lectures about politics, history and philosophy by way of various mouthpieces; and reverberates “that Heinlein voice.”
Oddly, I still found it compelling and stimulating, taking an interest in its political and moral philosophy rather than being converted to what is advocated in the text. It’s actually quite far from the fascism it is accused of. Anyone who can understand the oath may serve, regardless of their attributes or abilities. There are no wars within the human species, with lots of personal freedom, where almost everyone is reasonably well off and people who despise the government can do so openly and fearlessly.
A student of history will notice that the communal ideology of the alien “Bugs” is virtually identical to Western Cold War understanding of Communism and the Soviet Union. There is a delightful, explicit critique of Marxism as Rico concludes at one point:
“We were learning, expensively, just how efficient a total Communism can be when used by a people adapted to it by evolution; the Bug commissars didn’t care any more about expending soldiers than we care about expending ammo.”
Virulent anti-Communist! Undoubtedly right-wing in its politics and unashamedly militaristic but also one of the finest coming-of-age narratives in science fiction. We follow Rico’s rites of passage, making many mistakes along the way, and contrary to a glorifying view of war, avoiding blind heroism. (Don’t ever confuse the book with the movie sharing the same name!)
It is undeniably a significant work in the history of the genre, pioneering an entire sub-genre of military space opera, even if only paradoxical in that many, like Joe Haldeman and Orson Scott Card, have written fiction in conscious opposition to the philosophy espoused in Starship Troopers.
“To the everlasting glory of the infantry…”
Welcome to the not so new but certainly improved Worlds Without End! If you’ve been here before you’ll no doubt notice some pretty big changes. (If this is your first visit, you just have to trust me when I say it just keeps getting better.) Our goal was not a total re-design but rather a face lift – just a nip and tuck here and there – to freshen things up a bit and return that youthful glow to the site.
Why the changes? Well, this is the internet and you have to update your site once in a while if you want people to keep coming back. Nobody likes a stale site. But more importantly we keep growing and changing our content so we needed to update our navigation to help you guys can find the good stuff. On top of that our Google stats are telling us that lots of people are finding the site but most of our visitors aren’t going any further than our blog. They seem to be writing us off as "just a blog" when we have so much more to offer than that.
Here is a list of the major changes we’ve implemented to address these issues:
- New Home Page
We moved the blog out of the home page and gave it its own section. The new home page has links to the latest blog articles and a slideshow to highlight our best posts. Having a proper home page also gave us room to tell folks about some of our site features and the new content that gets added every day like new novels and authors and the latest member submitted book reviews.
- Main Navigation
We were fast running out of room for links in our old menu and sub-menus so we opted for a mega menu approach. Hover over the main menu items and you can see how the mega menu drop down gives us plenty of space to show off the breadth and depth of our content while allowing ample room for future growth. We also re-organized and simplified the navigation and grouped all the social stuff – blog, forums and links – to the far right.
- Giant Footer
We took the "new stuff" bits out of the footer and put them on the home page where they’ll get more attention and replaced it with a constant site-map. The new footer shows off all our content at once and makes it easy to see where you are and where you want to go next.
- Re-Organized the Books Section
This is where the rubber meets the road for WWEnd. It’s all about the books. In this section we cleaned up the sub-menu, killed off the award info pages and moved that content into a hidden slide outs on the award list pages and changed the book list pages to the full width template so we could get more columns in and make them look as good as the awards pages. Check out the SF Masterworks list to see what I mean.
There are a ton of other small changes throughout the site that you may or may not notice but hopefully they’ll all add up to a better user experience. So take a look around and let us know what you think of the redux.
The finalists for the 2011 Locus Awards have been announced. Winners will be presented during the Science Fiction Awards Weekend in Seattle WA, June 24-26, 2011. Get your ticket here.
Science Fiction Novel
- Surface Detail – Iain M. Banks (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
- Cryoburn – Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
- Zero History – William Gibson (Putnam; Viking UK)
- The Dervish House – Ian McDonald (Pyr; Gollancz)
- Blackout/All Clear – Connie Willis (Spectra)
- Under Heaven – Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Canada; Roc)
- Kraken – China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey)
- Who Fears Death – Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
- The Fuller Memorandum – Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
- The Sorcerer’s House – Gene Wolfe (Tor)
Congrats to all the nominees! See the full news release from Locus for the details on the other categories.
Any of your favorites make the cut? What books do you think should have been included in the running? These all seem to be heavy hitters in the genre except for Nnedi Okorafor.
This latest trailer has a ton more cool bits than the last. Unfortunately, with so many trailers I’m starting to feel like I’ve seen the movie already – not that I’m going to stop watching them mind you. My expectations continue to climb and, against my better judgment, I’m really starting to look forward to this film. What do you think? Am I setting myself up for a fall?
Oh, in case you missed it, Rico posted a cool bit about the origins of the Green Lantern oath a few weeks back that’s worth a read.