XyberTimes

Curious Bits From a Curious World

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Battle Cruiser and Dreadnought: Lost Colonies 1 & 2

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Genre: Sci-Fi
Author: B.V. Larson
Year: 2015

The Lost Colonies trilogy takes place about two hundred years after Earth lost contact with its colony worlds due to a massive solar flare that destroyed the interstellar network used for faster than light travel out of the Sol system. In the intervening years unofficial monarchies have risen on earth as the rich and powerful have grown even more rich and powerful. Most policing actions on Earth are now handled by the private security forces of the major families and in space Earth’s navy has been in steady decline with an ever shrinking operating budget. On a routine patrol William Sparhawk and crew discover evidence that the lost colonies have survived and that the Earth is in grave danger.

So far this series is equal parts entertaining and frustrating. While it scratches that spaceship battle itch, there is a severe lack of depth to most other parts. The two most irritating points are probably the lack of curiosity displayed by the characters and their lack of any kind of security thinking. For example, an enemy agent attempts to assassinate a politician and the entirety of the investigation consists of going to another politician’s house and asking them if they know anything about it. They say no and you never hear about the investigation again. At other points enemy agents are found to have been operating on navy spaceships and once these enemies are exposed there is no further thought put towards them. No one investigates where they came from, how they got access, there’s no check for sabotage or other agents in hiding. It’s all, “well we got the bad guys, it’s all fine now”, my dentist is going to make bank from the amount of teeth grinding this caused me. I’m no security professional, but while reading I just couldn’t stop thinking of various measures that any right thinking individual would attempt in order to secure a possible threat. I understand that the Navy has been in steady decline since Earth lost contact with its colonies. I also understand that the rise of the unofficial royalties of Earth have left a lot of security matters in the hands of private groups. But why wouldn’t they think to take the most basic security measures against a new threat? Especially when you take into account that they have an individual on hand that specifically tells them that they need to check individuals in order to flush out the agents.

Aside from a generally terrible security sense everyone seems to forget that they have a fully functional foreign star-ship and fully cooperative member of that ships former crew. Unfortunately, everyone seems to only be interested in the fact that the ship can fly. No one decides to scour the ships systems for information of anything other than how to fly her. It’s a star-ship and not one person is interested in where it’s been or what it has seen. There’s no talk of searching the data banks for information on enemy capabilities or locations or anything else. Later they make mention that the ships navigational maps got wiped but this was after the ship had been in navy hands for some time and there was still no mention of any other information the ship might contain. At least with their new crew mate they have the excuse that she won’t answer any question that isn’t asked since hers are a generally unimaginative people, but for whatever reason no one bothers to sit her down and ask her for details on anything she might know.

Overall it’s an enjoyable enough series. The action and space combat is solid and the characters that aren’t idiots are generally interesting. Try not to gnash your teeth too hard at the bumbling manners of the persons portrayed and you’ll be fine. There is a strong enough story to keep you interested throughout.

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Book Thoughts: The Three-Body Problem

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The Three-Body Problem

Genre: Sci-Fi
Author: Cixin Liu
Year: 2008 Released as a book, English translation released 2014

I really don’t understand the overwhelming love some people have for The Three-Body Problem. It is an okay book. There’s nothing particularly terrible about it, but there’s nothing great about it either. The bones of a great story are there, poking from just beneath the surface, but it never materializes as it is constantly being buried under unnecessary details. I’m no stranger to dense Sci-Fi being a fan of David Brin and Peter F. Hamilton, but this book is a far cry from those in both story structure and science content. As an alternate history story it reads more like an episode of the X-files, and I don’t mean one of the good episodes.
Out of all the characters introduced in this book only a couple matter. Yes, I understand that seems like a bold statement. The myriad of characters introduced do very little to advance the story and are mainly included as a means of fleshing out motivations. Half of them only appear in Ye Wenjie’s past and are all dead in the books present time period. The other half have been introduced through their interactions with Wang Miao. These interactions fall into two categories; “This person may know more you should talk to them.” And “What are these mysterious people talking about.” And then there are aliens.

The book starts during China’s Cultural Revolution during which Ye Wenjie’s father, a physicist and professor, is killed for not conforming to the new ideology. Her sister, a high school student and Red Guard member, is killed in the inter faction fighting and her mother commits suicide out of guilt for supporting the revolutionary authorities. Ye Wenjie decides to take a position in a worker’s camp far from any of the political centers and works with a logging team trying to put behind her everything that happened to her family. While on the logging team she meets a man and gets caught up in some politics. This leads to her working in a top secret military communications base where she hooks up with a former student of her fathers, and they later marry. While at the base Ye Wenjie intercepts an alien signal and responds to it in secret. She pledges to help the aliens, the Trisolarans, in taking over the Earth since she feels all the worlds governments are corrupt. It takes several chapters, many flashback sequences, and walls of text to get this much information out of The Three-Body Problem.

Wang Miao is a nanotechnology researcher who gets dragged into the story because his research could be dangerous to the Trisolaran invasion and he has a tentative connection to a member of the secret society attempting to lay the foundation for the alien arrival. He spends most of his time playing a computer game titled, you guessed it, The Three-Body Problem. Upon solving the mystery of the game Wang Miao is invited to join the elites of the secret society and learns the truth about the aliens and their invasion plans. He learns about Ye Wenjie’s background, the secret military communications base, and the strange artificial intelligence the aliens have sent to Earth. All of this could be told in a much more concise manner than is managed.

Finishing this book was quite a task. I just could not bring myself to care about most of the discussion or the characters. At the end of the day it made no difference to me whether or not they all died as they were either generally unlikable or so shallow as to not be missed. The aliens were somewhat interesting and to think that there is a secret organization working to pave the way for extraterrestrial invasion was compelling, but the execution was lacking. It’s tempting to blame this on translation issues, but that would not excuse the story or lack thereof. The author seemed preoccupied on the Cultural Revolution and how it was so terrible that of course this person would rather have aliens take over the world. This led to very little time spent on the sci-fi premise of this book. All of the relevant background for Ye Wenjie could have been covered in a few pages, but instead we get her biography and a few pages on the alien invasion. Out of the entire three hundred plus pages of this book the most interesting thing was the fact that you can weigh unknown objects in order to determine whether or not they are nuclear bombs.

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Date Night On Union Station: Simply Good

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Date Night on Union Station
Genre: Sci-Fi, Romance
Author: E.M. Foner
Year: 2014
Would Own In Paper: Yes

“Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. When she receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, Kelly decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.”

With Date Night on Union Station E.M. Foner manages to create a genuinely interesting universe without bogging the reader down with excess information. I have to admit that it took me a while to start reading this book after I added it to my library, it seemed interesting to me but not so much so that I wanted to move it to the top of my cue. Once I finally started, I had to keep reading for that next interesting bit of information or quirky revelation. This is definitely a solid book one without falling prey to the unnecessary wordiness of some other sci-fi series.

Kelly Frank is our hero, and the top Earth diplomat in this particular section of space. She gets paid a fraction of what the office manager makes and can only afford rent in one of the worst parts of the station. Following her day to day struggles in service to Earth was more interesting than it had any business being. Like any true diplomat Frank’s duties include securing and protecting trade, the form of this trade shows that Foner has given thought to the universe he was crafting. Any space faring civilization should have access to anything they need so what do various species trade among themselves?

Sadly Date Night on Union Station is not an overly long book and talking more about it risks serious spoilers. The good news is that it is currently free on the Amazon Kindle store. It is an interesting and quick read that any fan of science fiction will enjoy. If you miss out there’s only yourself to blame.

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Pioneer One Proves That Small Budgets Can Do Big Things

Pioneer One

Genre: Sci-Fi, Mystery, Drama
Director: Bracey Smith
Year: 2010, Six Episodes
Unofficial Tagline: No, it’s weirder than that.
Would Own: Yes

A mysterious crash spreads radiation across the Montana-Canadian border. A bedraggled group of Homeland Security agents are dispatched to investigate a possible terrorist action. What they find may rewrite human history. Pioneer One is classic Sci-Fi storytelling, the kind of production that seems to only be capable on the small scale these days.

Pioneer One was a crowdfunded web series. The episodes were produced as funding was received. I remember watching their website week to week watching the funding progress until the next episode. It was money well spent. The pilot and subsequent three episodes were filmed for about $26,000. Overall the production took in about $100,000 in funding. Compare that to the $500,000 minimum of your run of the mill network drama, and the feat becomes that much more impressive. The care that everyone took in this project is apparent in each episode. You’re never left feeling as though someone was just phoning it in or not giving it their all. In this series you have actual actors practicing their craft for your benefit as the mystery unfolds bit by bit.

There are no obnoxious explosion sequences, running gun battles, or car chases. Pioneer One is nonetheless a triumph of small budget story telling through compelling characters and an engrossing mystery. The cast and crew have managed an amazing thing, and I for one would love to see them in other projects. The creators have released the entire series for free on YouTube so you really have no excuse for missing out. At the very least, do yourself a favor and watch the first episode/pilot.

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Aldnoah.Zero: A Quality Production From Start to Finish

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Genre: Sci-Fi, Mecha, Political Intrigue
Director: Ei Aoki
Year: July 2014 to March 2015
Favorite Episode: Season 1 Episode 12
Most Notable Feature: No super weapon
Fan Service: No
Episodes: Two Seasons, 24 Episodes
Would Own: Yes

During the Apollo 17 moon mission an ancient alien hypergate leading to the planet Mars was discovered. The research team sent through the gate found the remains of a long gone Martian civilization. Upon investigating the ruins, the head researcher gains the power to reactivate the ancient alien technology known as Aldnoah. With the Aldnoah activation ability burned into his genome, he establishes the Vers Empire on Mars with the other researchers as his lords and takes the name Raregalia Vers Rayvers. Using Aldnoah, which can only be activated by the Emperors blood relatives, the Vers Empire develops advanced technologies allowing them to begin terraforming mars.

In 1999, driven by various internal pressures, the Vers Empire declares war on Earth. During a pitched battle on the lunar surface, the hypergate malfunctions causing the moon’s destruction and death of the emperor’s son Gilzeria. Heavens Fall is the name given to the hypergate collapse by Earth forces due to the large pieces of the moon that struck the planet and saw a stoppage of hostilities. The destruction of the moon left the Vers invasion force stranded in Earth orbit. Without unified leadership the Vers knights entered a detente condition. For 15 years Earth rebuilds with the constant specter of Vers renewing hostilities until First Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia decides on a goodwill visit. The assassination of Princess Asseylum is the catalyst for the events represented in Aldnoah.Zero.

There is no secret super weapon in Aldnoah.Zero, no war wining technology waiting to save the day at the last minute. What keeps Earth from being completely outclassed is the ability of Inaho Kaizuka. He is a tactical genius who manages to out maneuver opponents who use technically superior kataphracts, the mecha in this series. Although the show never explicitly acknowledges it, Inaho’s lack of emotional expression coupled with his analytical prowess leads the viewer to believe he may be autistic which just adds to the depth of the character. He’s the closest the series comes to a secret weapon on Earths side and the series is better for it with the freedom to focus on story telling rather than who has the shiniest mecha from episode to episode.

While the Earth is fighting for survival against the Vers knights, the empire forces are embroiled in the various political machinations that are almost obligatory for an imperial system. Seeing the internal power struggles plaguing the Versian forces does a lot to humanize them and show that conflicts are not necessarily black and white affairs. As you watch you come to empathize with the individual characters rather than their respective factions. The war becomes a set piece to the challenges surrounding the main characters. Mecha, space battles, political intrigue, gripping drama, Aldnoah.Zero perfectly combines these elements to produce an A+ viewing experience that should not be missed.