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review 2017-05-21 02:10
Decision at Doona by Anne McCaffrey
Decision at Doona - Anne McCaffrey

I’ve read many of Anne McCaffrey’s books, but for some reason I never got around to her Doona books. This first one primarily stars Ken Reeve. Earth is enormously overcrowded, so Ken is excited to learn that Doona, a planet uninhabited by intelligent sentient beings, has been discovered and that he and his family have been picked to be some of the first colonists.

The “uninhabited by intelligent sentient beings” part is important. Two hundred years earlier, a botched first contact situation led to an entire alien species, the Siwannese, committing suicide. This led to the Non-Cohabitation Principle, which stated that humans could only colonize a planet if there was no evidence that intelligent beings already lived there. Doona seems perfect - until the human colonists come across a settlement of cat-like aliens known as Hrrubans.

Nobody wants to go back to overcrowded Earth, but the Non-Cohabitation Principle is serious business. Still, it isn’t as easy as just packing up and leaving. They need the bigwigs back on Earth to believe what they’ve seen and reported, they need a ship, and they need orders on how to conduct themselves until a ship can come pick them up. Meanwhile, the Hrrubans don’t seem to care about any of that and are just as determined to interact with the humans as the humans are to keep their interactions with the Hrrubans friendly but brief.

I tend to gravitate towards first contact science fiction. And one with stubbornly friendly cat-like aliens? Gimme! Unfortunately, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I expected I would.

The first third of the book was probably the best. I enjoyed the humans’ initial interactions with the Hrrubans, particularly the Hrrubans’ polite determination to work together with the humans. I also liked that this seemed to be a subversion of the usual “colonists with more advanced technology save the poor low-tech natives” story, without going the “mystical natives” route. The Hrrubans were polite and friendly, yes, but even the humans noticed that the Hrrubans seemed more concerned with them learning the Hrruban way of speaking and doing things than the other way around. And although the Hrrubans asked the humans for help building a bridge, in the end it didn’t seem like the humans were particularly necessary at all. The Hrrubans had all the necessary materials, technology, and knowledge, so the bridge-building was really more of a cross-species togetherness activity than anything.

Early on, I suspected that there was more going on with the Hrrubans than they were letting on. How had whole Hrruban villages gone unnoticed during the initial evaluations of Doona as a possible colony planet candidate? Why were the Hrrubans handling first contact with humans so calmly and so well? I had a guess as to what was going on, and I really wanted to find out if I was right or if McCaffrey had something even better up her sleeve. I enjoyed the big reveal, when it came, although I was a little less thrilled with it when I realized that the book included an enormous spoiler at the beginning that I just hadn’t been observant enough to catch. It also bugged me that the big reveal essentially negated some of the things I’d previously enjoyed about the book.

The characters were pretty flat - most of them were little more than names to me. Also, many aspects of the story were dated. There was a reference to a hugely important event in 2010 that, obviously, never happened (and was linguistically suspect). And the colonists anxiously read communications from Earth using microfilm readers.

The thing that really turned me off this book, though, was Todd, Ken’s 6-year-old son. Since Earth was so overcrowded, everyone was taught from an early age to be quiet, move carefully, and not take up too much space. Todd violated societal norms by being loud, energetic, and occasionally aggressive. He was so difficult to deal with during the journey to Doona that he’d had to be locked up and supervised in 4-hour shifts. One of his first actions upon arriving on Doona was to run up to one of the Hrrubans and yank his tail as hard as he could.

While I could sympathize with Todd’s frustration with the requirement to keep his behavior restrained and with the way he was treated (more on that in a bit), the tail-yanking was absolutely not okay and he should have been old enough to know better. The humans were horrified, but surprisingly the Hrrubans treated Todd indulgently. Later on, one of them even said that his behavior indicated he’d one day be a leader.

As much as I disliked Todd, I also didn’t like the way his parents spoke of him. Until a certain point in the book, Todd’s mom (Pat, Ken’s wife) never said anything truly positive about him and Ken’s feelings about him were mixed but leaned heavily towards negative. At one point, Ken almost beat Todd but refrained because he’d have had an audience. When the Hrrubans offered to essentially act as Todd’s daycare, Pat couldn’t have agreed more quickly and Ken’s protests were token at best. (I initially understood the Hrrubans’ offer as a kind of temporary adoption, which made Pat and Ken’s relief and celebratory sex especially difficult to take.)

Todd turned out to be instrumental to the book’s ending, and...ugh. McCaffrey wanted readers to believe that 6-year-old Todd was incapable/unwilling to conform to behavioral norms on Earth, and yet

willing and able to become fluent in both the formal and informal varieties of a new language, learn an alien species’ formal etiquette, and behave according to those rules for hours on end.

(spoiler show)

Um, no. Even an adult would probably have had periods of boredom and mental exhaustion.

McCaffrey was one of my favorite authors when I was a teen, but this definitely isn’t making it onto my list of favorite books by her. Still, I won’t rule out reading the next book in the series, which was published a couple decades later and might potentially work better for me.

 

Rating Note:

 

I debated between 1.5 and 2 stars for this. In the end, I decided that the stuff with Todd, plus the many difficult-to-believe aspects of the world-building, pushed this more towards 1.5 stars than 2.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-05-18 18:02
Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted ChiangĀ 
Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang

In contrast to Bradbury, I have Chiang. Now these are science fiction, and they are particularly rare in that the are fine examples of both science and storytelling. I picked it up because the new movie Arrival is based on one of these stories. It's a first-contact story starring a linguist. Who doesn't love a linguist?

Any one of these stories is mind-blowing, but together, sheesh, I'm reduced to mental rubble. I don't have words enough to express how cool they are.

Highly recommended to anyone who loves science, and to readers who enjoy thought-provoking stories.

Do read the notes on the stories at the end. The aren't necessary, but they are interesting.

Library copy

 

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review 2017-04-28 18:00
People of the Sun by Jason Parent
People of the Sun - Jason Parent

People of the Sun is a science fiction tale with heart!

 

Have you ever wondered how the world would react if we ever made "first contact" (to borrow from Star Trek, that's right, I'm a Trekkie), with an alien race? As Dave Matthews asks in his song Time Bomb, "If Martians fell from the sky, what would that do to God? Would we put the weapons down, or aim them up at the sky?" This book has its own way of answering that question.

 

When we imagine aliens, we might think of little green men, or ET or perhaps "gray men." However we might think of them, we do seem to think of them as all alike. This book addresses the likely fact that they are NOT all the same, that each of them has a personality just as we do. What happens if some of them are good and some are not? Everything becomes that much more complicated, doesn't it?

 

I'm not going further into the plot because the synopsis and several other reviews already do that. I will say that this book made me think of our likely response,(as a nation), and what I came up with was not pretty. It gets exponentially worse when I think of our response as a WORLD, with all of our different governments, with great and petty leaders alike.

 

I think Mr. Parent's take on all this was realistic and it caused me to think about all of these issues and more. Even though this was mainly a science-fiction novel, it had elements of horror. It was also well written. A good story entertains, has complex characters and it makes you think. People of the Sun has all that and as such I recommend it!

 

*Thanks to the author for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This is it. Further, I consider this author to be a friend, but this did not affect the content of my review.*

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review 2017-03-17 15:00
First Contact Review
First Contact - Kat Green

First Contact is a paranormal horror story with a couple unexpected elements to it. The authors that make up the Kat Green team did a good job in presenting a story that read easily and engagingly. Sloane is an interesting character that is on a quest that most people who have lost someone they love can understand. Sometimes you’re driven by grief to do things that don’t make sense.

 

The pacing is good and quick in First Contact. Everything happens in a short amount of time. It almost seems too short before you remember that in haunted houses anything can happen. The dialogue creepy and suitable. There was a red herring thrown in that almost got me, I’ll admit. I particularly liked near the end when Sloane had gotten in over her head. The descriptions were well done enough that everything was easy to visualize. I wouldn’t want to suffer the way many of the victims did, that’s for sure.

 

However, there were some problems with First Contact. Mainly, Sloane’s an idiot that’s completely lacking in common sense. The bad guy all but screams “You’re next, missy!” and she walks right into danger. Repeatedly. A person that she trusts tells her “Don’t do (x) yet, wait for me.” and she refuses to listen to him.  And at the point where she’s really being stupid, it’s no longer as much about finding the ghost of her dead fiance as it is finding out what’s going on. This takes her from a mostly believable character to one that feels like she’s written just to get into the scary situations. A tool for the authors to scare us through that feels like nothing more than that.

 

First Contact felt like it didn’t take me long at all to finish it, and I definitely enjoyed myself. With that being said, I can’t say I’ll be on the lookout for anything from Kat Green in the future. It was a good read, but not good enough to make me want to come back for more. It just didn’t have enough of an impact, or feel original enough, for me to want to see what they do in the future.

Overall, a good read, though.

 

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book whilst participating in a book tour hosted through YA Bound Blog tours.

Source: www.scifiandscary.com/first-contact-review
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review 2017-01-03 02:52
The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

October 29, 2010

The only problem I had with this book was Todd's way of talking. (I don't think first-person books should be written in dialect, because our way of talking always sounds both natural and neutral to us. It only sounds like dialect to other people.) Other than that, I loved it. The very best thing that Ness did, was deal with how the lies and ignorance lead Todd to doubt everything. Beautifully done. I'd recommend it to fans of The Hunger Games

And yes, I'm eager to get the sequels and find out what happens next.

As an aside, according to the respective authors, both this and Feed come out of the same idea, the constant stream of info into modern lives. Very different books.

Library copyThe Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness  

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