Some books I have read recently. Although most of the books I am reading are in English, most of the reviews are in German, so check out the German version of this page, too.
Red Mars Kim Stanley Robinson 1993 7

Another novel I have quite ambivalent feelings about. Clarke's praise "It should be required reading for the colonists of the next century" on the cover tells more about the book than one would expect. Martian colonists will no doubt be much more interested in areology and technology than the emotions of some characters in an old novel, so Robinson seems a lot more enthusiastic describing the former than the latter. This, however, together with a somewhat simple style and the fact that nothing unexpected happens during the first two thirds of the book makes it rather easy to put away at the slightest excuse, a property it has in common with many books I was required to read in school.

About the plot: Red Mars tells the story of the first 40 years of the Martian terraforming: The voyage of the First Hundred (or 101?), their explorations, building of a village and start of terraforming; the disappearance of some of them; the arrival of more groups, terraforming and mining on larger and larger scales, the construction of a beanstalk. At the same time the tensions between the different groups on Mars rise and the final outbreak leads to some quite unexpected advances in terraforming ...

The Gap Cycle:
  1. The Gap into Conflict - The Real Story
  2. The Gap into Vision - Forbidden Knowledge
  3. The Gap into Power - A Dark and Hungry God Arises
  4. The Gap into Madness - Chaos and Order
  5. The Gap into Ruin - This Day All Gods Die
Stephen R. Donaldson 1990-1996 8
"Does Stephen Donaldson have a clue?" was the title of a thread in rec.arts.sf.written some years ago. The general consensus was that he has not. A clue about basic physics, astrononomy or even arithmetics, that is. He does have a clue about how to write Space Opera, however.

The Gap Cycle is the story of Morn Hyland, a young idealistic cop (and daughter of two idealistic cops) who destroys her own ship in a fit of "gap sickness", is "rescued" by a truly vile pirate, then by another vile pirate, sold to aliens, raped, beaten, impregnated, betrayed, addicted, and still finds the strength to survive, to care for her (involuntary) companions, and on top of that, to battle the monopolistic "United Mining Corporations" which has not only all the economic power in human space but also the military power. It is the story of Angus Thermopyle, the ugliest and cruelest pirate in human space, Morns first tormentor, who is converted into a cyborg and, robbed of his free will, must act as a hero. It is the story of Warden Dios, the director of the police force who commited many crimes to please the evil owner of the UMC, and finally sees the chance to free the UMCP from the UMC and be redempted. It is the story of Morn's son, who is force-grown and supplied with her memory. It is a story of many other people. It is a story of love, hate, cowardice, heroism, good and evil, betrayal, plots, counter-plots and counter-counter-plots, space battles and hand-to-hand combat.

All of this is told not once, but several times. Every single event is described from the point of view of several persons - and of course it is often quite different to them, so the reader rarely wishes the Donaldson would skip yet another point of view and get on with the action (but the suspicion that Donaldson had negotiated a fixed price per word before writing the books does come up).

Heart of the Comet David Brin and Gregory Benford 1986 8
I borrowed this book almost 10 years ago and found it great. Recently I bought it and read it again. Guess what - it's still great. Fast-paced, a lot of action, a little bit of horror, stupid politics, love, hate, and hard-looking science. Almost impossible to put down. But after I was finished I got some doubts: The hard-looking science isn't so hard. People are sitting down and standing up all the time in one tenthousand'th g. In the beginning ice evaporates when touched with a space-suit, near the end people are crawling around almost naked. Their skin must insulate really well! And a few other minor inconsistencies ...

So much for my opinion, now for the story:
In 2061 an expedition lands on Halley's comet just after its perihelion. The plan is to ride it for almost a full orbit, then change its path so that it stays in the inner solar system and can be harvested, or maybe smashed into Mars to give it a new atmosphere. 400 spacers and scientists will spend most of the time in deep sleep. The expedition is ill-fated. The crew wasn't chosen for compatibility, but is a mishmash of people who would join a 70+ year expedition: Idealists of all sorts of ideologies, people who had nothing left to lose on Earth, and dissident scientists forced on this expeditions by their governments. The tensions rise quickly after the first accidents, and especially after primitive life is discovered and turns out to be quite dangerous. While the humans come to peace with the cometary life forms, they have a lot more problems with each other (on Halley and with Earth) and it becomes eventually clear that they cannot return to Earth.

Evolution's Shore Ian McDonald 1995 7
I am not quite sure whether I like this book. The sheer fact that I needed almost a month to finish it is a bad sign.

But it wasn't that bad. Some aspects were actually quite good.

McDonald's style for instance, and his almost Monty-Pythonesque humor, which shows in small anectotes only loosely related to the plot. His descriptions of the Chaga, an alien life form spreading out rapidly from its impact points at the Kilimanjaro and other points near the equator and changing plants, animals and humans radically reminds me of Varley's Titan or Bear's Legacy. The protagonists are people of flesh and blood.

And yet---something is missing. The story doesn't really get off the ground.

Arc Light Eric L. Harry 1994 4
After reading Harry's Society of the Mind I was so eager to read his first novel---Arc Light---that I didn't even pause to look what the book was about before ordering it. The cover told me that it "starts off with a nuclear war---and then the action really starts", which isn't exactly high on my list of favourite topics, especially as "the action" turned out to be the conventional war that followed the brief nuclear exchange. This is depicted in short glimpses at the lives of a large number of persons, very similar to Niven and Pournelle's Footfall and Lucifer's Hammer, and in excruciating technical detail---if you ever wanted to know just which gun is mounted on what American Tank or how many different kinds of sergeants there are, this book is for you. If rain or diarrhea force you to spend a few days of your summer vacation in your hotel room and you find this book on your bedside table, go ahead and read it. But if your list of books to read is continually getting longer, you can strike this book out---you won't miss anything.
Snow Crash Neal Stephenson 1992 10
"Cyberpunk isn't dead---it has just developed a sense of humor" the obligatory press hype just after the cover claims. Yeah, right---a dry, black humour well fitting for the drab, bloody future, where sword-toting free-lance hackers and high-tech skateboarders are delivering pizza,


Since I never seem to get around to finish my review of this book, I'll just put in a link to Russ Allbery's review of Snow Crash.