What I’ve Been Reading – First Contact/Time Travel/Parallel Universe edition

Lately, I have mostly been reading sci fi and YA books. I am a cyclical kind of reader, if that makes any sense. Here are about a dozen mini sci fi reviews for you. As you’ll see, I am taken with any books dealing with time travel, parallel worlds, and first contact.


Here: I got this graphic novel as a Christmas present. I was thrilled to crack it open. It is a beautifully put together book. In the end, I thought this was profound but not terrifically entertaining. I probably would have appreciated it more if it was half as long as it was. Over time it began to get a touch dull in places.

The book is a look at the same corner of a living room over hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. There are years when the house is not there and in its place, wilderness. The author gives us scenes that on their own don’t amount to much — a family listens to a joke told as they sit around the couch, a cat urinates on the floor, a man falls off a ladder, a family celebrates Christmas. But it is fascinating to see the different time periods represented. To see how on one hand everything changes and on the other, nothing really does. We all share the same small joys, heartbreaks, moments of boredom, and so on from century to century and decade to decade.


Time Travelers Never Die: This had a decent plot and characters, and it was a ton of fun. The story is fairly lightweight — indeed, some of it reads like the author indulging his own time travel fantasies. There are pages and pages of the characters exploring the important events of the past sometimes just for kicks. Some of this time spent in the past can be explained away by this idea that the machine ultimately proves more compelling to the characters than their actual lives. But McDevitt is too busy having fun to explore this darker premise with any serious effort.


Pushing Ice: A space opera, as they call these things. My introduction to Alastair Reynolds. Takes place, or some of it does, anyway, about 60 years in the future when space travel is commonplace. A moon of Saturn breaks away from its orbit and begins traveling to some mysterious destination across space. The moon turns out to be a spaceship in disguise. It just gets crazier and crazier after that, and I loved almost every minute of it.


Replay: about a guy who keeps reliving his life over and over again. This is definitely one of my favorites in the Groundhog Day micro genre. Strong characters, great prose, and very entertaining. A wonderful book.


Diving the Wreck: This entertaining book is part of a series. Competently written. Not terribly memorable, which is probably why I’m giving you zero details about it. I liked it enough to grab the second from the library, but I couldn’t get into that one.


Flash Forward: My introduction to Robert J. Sawyer. This one’s about how for two minutes or so, every person on the planet blacks out and then wakes up with some strange visions. Sawyer is not a stylist, but he has a ball with the premise, and it’s all very entertaining.


The Last Policeman – This first entry in a trilogy has a fantastic premise. An asteroid is set to collide with Earth in a matter of months. The world is in disarray as everyone settles in for the end in their own style. Our protagonist is a detective who spends his last days solving a homicide case. The work keeps him busy and sane, to a degree. All that said,  I wasn’t crazy about the execution here. I found this dull and depressing, and I put it down pretty quickly.


Adrift on the Sea of Rains – finished this yesterday. If i didn’t know what hard sci fi meant before, I sure as hell do now. One of those whackadoo plots that I just eat up. Its about 1955, and Earth has been totally annihilated thanks to the the Soviet/American Cold War. The only survivors are the dozen astronauts completing a research/military assignment on the moon. The astronauts are marooned but they do have in their possession a device that allows them to visit parallel worlds. They’re determined to find one where Earth is still in tact. I told you whackadoo, and I’m not sure the end is worth all of the work you have to put in just to understand the author’s NASA-speak. Still, on some level I enjoyed this. Part of a planned quartet of books


The Accidental Time Machine: entertaining yarn about a guy with a curious little time machine. The machine takes him to the future, but everytime he jumps he ends up in a world 12 times as many years into the future. The story is thin, but the world building is masterful.


Infinity Beach: After reading Time Traveler’s Never Die, I gave this a whirl. The plot is too insane to even go into. It takes place way, way down the line and features clones and first contact and all that good stuff. It held my attention for about half of the book, and then I began losing interest and put it down indefinitely.


Hominids: The characters are kinda weak, the dialogue isn’t sparkling, and the plot is a bit thin. After reading 3 of Sawyer’s books I get the sense that he cranks these things out and that characterization and dialogue come second to his ideas. Most of the time, though — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — his ideas are good enough that I don’t mind these drawbacks. Such is the case with Hominids. Here Sawyer imagines a parallel universe where neanderthals ended up outliving their homo sapien cousins and not vice versa. One of these intelligent neanderthals, due to an accident, finds himself in our world. Sawyer’s world building here is very strong. The biggest gripe I have with it is that there isn’t enough plot. The characters do a lot of sitting around. The conversations that ensue are lively, though, and I stuck with it. I read the second book too, and I liked that one also. Unftly, I got a little weary of the characters, so I ended up putting the third one off.


The Dog Stars: There are far too many apocalyptic-themed books getting written these days. I suppose it makes you appreciate the rare, stand-out entry. Peter Hellers’s Dog Stars is a special little book. It’s not terribly ambitious from a storytelling standpoint but the prose gleams, and the main character is written with such love. It’s interesting to see him struggle to retain his humanity in a world that has gone ice cold. Not an edge-of-your-seat entertainment, but it’s fairly entertaining and definitely a pleasant way to pass a couple of evenings.

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