Friday, February 19, 2010

Fridays are Fun: Anne McCaffrey's "Freedom" Series

If you've heard of Anne McCaffrey, it's probably been in relation to her Dragonriders of Pern series. But she has written much, much more than that. One of these lesser-known series is the Freedom tetralogy. In it, an army of mercenaries from the stars hit Earth, and Earth hits back.

Spoiler alert: Spoilers may lurk below. Proceed at your own risk.

Actually, though, we don't see much of Earth. Most of the action takes place on a planet some distance away from this spinning rock. The idea is that Earth has been conquered by a bunch of creepy bigheaded guys called the Eosi, and their goon squads, the Catteni. Their standard technique for subduing a civilization is to swoop down on a bunch of major population centers (without calling ahead) and kidnap a whole bunch of random people. It's worked everywhere else, but Humans Are Special.

The protagonist, Kris Bjornsen, got taken away from her university in Denver during this first wave, and as we meet her, she has run away from her Catteni master and is surviving on her own in the jungle of the planet Barevi. Unfortunately, she gets into misadventures with a renegade Catteni named Zainal, and they get carted off to a (seemingly) uninhabited planet, to be used as unwilling pioneers. I won't go into detail, but let's just say it gets better.

The Good: McCaffrey's worldbuilding is impeccable. Particuarly on Botany, she develops a very intricate ecosystem, and it feels like a real world. It's fun to watch the creative solutions that the forced colonists come up with.

The Bad: Unfortunately, the bad nearly outweighs the good. The plot is pretty much a joke. Everything bad turns out to be good in disguise, and the Good Guys are always smarter and better-looking than the Bad Guys. It's one series of implausible events after another. The fact that the Catteni just happened to scoop up a bunch of people with good survival skills, and they just happen to find everything they need is by far the most implausible event. Lastly, the Series Big Bads, the Eosi, get wiped out by massive allergy attacks. More creative than simply shooting them, but it seems to pussify them a little too much.

The Verdict: I'm not sure. If you're looking for something with a believable plot, you're in the wrong series. On the other hand, I enjoyed them, and read through the whole series, so maybe I'm just a sucker for interspecies romance and survival pr0n. If you're looking for the really good McCaffrey, try the Pern series.

The Freedom Tetralogy:
Freedom's Landing
Freedom's Choice
Freedom's Challenge
Freedom's Ransom

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Crest of the Wave

I just received an invitation to join Google's latest experiment in communication, Wave. I haven't used it for very long, but I'd just like to outline a few thoughts about it.
  1. Wave has a lot of potential, but it will be better when there are more people using it. I only have three contacts who have gotten access to Wave, and I don't know any of them all that well. For now, I'm limited to participating in public Waves.
  2. Typing is like plowing through a field of frozen molasses. This is probably because it has this "real-time typing" feature, which means that everyone on the wave can see what you're typing as you're typing it. I'd bet that is a bandwidth hog, and frankly, I'm not sure I see the point in the feature.
  3. I like the fact that the dev team apparently consists of 100% Firefly junkies. The term "Wave" actually comes from the series, where interplanetary communication involves sending people a "wave". Also, a couple of error messages apparently use quotes from Firefly.
Overall, I'm interested, but not really blown away. I could see using Google Wave, but only once there are more people available to "wave". To paraphrase Robert Jordan, WAFO (wait and find out).

Lastly, for anyone who has Wave but doesn't really know how to use it, I recommend The Complete Guide to Google Wave. You can read it online for free, and I understand that the authors have plans for publication.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Weekend Update

At midnight, tonight, I begin work on my masterwork, the Great American Novel, as part of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The point of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in the month of November, and I'll be doing that, mostly on weekends, the whole month long. This is going to be interesting.

In other news, I will have to postpone my review of The Gathering Storm, since I did not get my book this week. I will have to wait until Monday, at the earliest, to get the book, and while I may start reading it during the week, I plan to dash through it on Friday. I understand that the reason for the holdup has something to do with the Post Office being full of spazes*, or something along those lines.

In real-world news, Hamid Karzai has probably just won next week's runoff, seeing as Abdullah Abdullah, his challenger, is boycotting it. Mmm, democracy in action. Also, Iran has (apparenlty) rejected our plan to prevent their acquisition of nuclear weapons. Mmm, I see green shoots of world peace sprouting. Finally, in upstate New York, we witness the victory of the GOP's nutwing over any semblance of wanting to compromise on anything, with Dede Scuzzlebutt's Scozzafava's withdrawal from the race in NY-23. Mmm, now's just the time for bipartisanship, right? Ah, well. At least my sense of cynicism is still alive. What would I do without it?

*With all due respect to the employees of the United States Postal Service, particularly those of you who hear dogs talking to you.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fridays are Fun: The "Honorverse"

I've recently started reading David Weber's Honor Harrington series, AKA "The Honorverse". It's military SF, with a heavy emphasis on naval combat. The series has been described as "Horatio Hornblower in space", and having read the actual Hornblower series from start to finish, I would agree with that description, although it appears the books grow beyond that in later books.

The books are set around 4100 AD (in Terra-years, or "T-years", at least). The main protagonist is Honor Harrington, a female officer in the "Royal Manticoran Navy". Yes, humanity has spread from Earth to the stars, and the Star Kingdom of Manticore is one of the most wealthy of Earth's children, mostly due to trade. One of the main threads running through the books is Manticore's ongoing feud with Haven, another colony settled by Earthlings. Haven, at the inception of the series, is technically a republic, but is actually a moribund semi-monarchical bureaucracy, ruled by the Legislaturalists. In order to keep its economy rising, Haven must conquer more territory, and they've come into conflict with Manticore as a result.

I can't speak for the whole series, but having read the first four books in the main series (I'm in the middle of the fifth right now), I will say that the Honor Harrington books have one definite strength: the battles. Weber has certainly given a great deal of thought to the military elements of this, and it shows. The battle sequences in the various books are well thought out, and he gives the reader a nitty-gritty look at the military tech and how it affects the way things work.

If I had one quibble with the series, it would be with some of the antagonist characters. A lot of them seem to be simple strawmen/-women, and their competence as villains could be seriously questioned. Also, subtlety is obviously not David Weber's strong suit. For instance (spoiler alert!) in book three, there is a revolution brewing in the series Big Bad, the "People's Republic of Haven". The leader of that revolution? Rob S. Pierre. I kid you not. The secret police of Haven? State Security, which he can (and has) abbreviated to SS.

Quite beside the mainline series, there are two spinoff series covering other parts of the 'verse, along with several short story anthologies. Perhaps, though, one of the best things about this series, is that you can get most of it FOR FREE. It's on, under the CD marked "Storm From The Shadows". Yes, Baen, the publishers, are giving it away for free. The books all come in multiple formats, and unlike your average pirated OCR version of a book, they are all very well formatted and put together. I would Highly Recommend this series, if only because there's no reason to not try it out.

Coming next Friday: The Gathering Storm! SQUEEE!

Monday, October 26, 2009

For Your Mental Health Pleasure...


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Grayson Schools Broun

Ok, yeah politics! This exchange between Alan Grayson and Paul Broun is excellent.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

me me me me me

So, yes. This is me. Matthew Kuhl. This is my new personal blog. Pay no mind to those other blogs, since I don't actually update them anymore.

As I write this, I am a sophomore at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, GA. I plan to major in history, and possibly I will minor in psychology, though that has not been chiseled into granite yet. When I leave this place in 2012, I plan to work in a government position, and if all goes well, I won't be able to tell you about it.

My interest in history is almost as old as my little sister, and I'm currently interested in a few areas: military history (broadly speaking), Middle Eastern history, and Central Asian history. In addition to these pursuits, I am also a great fan of science fiction, fantasy, good coffee, good food, and good music. Last, but not least, I will root for pretty much any team that comes from my hometown, Atlanta, particularly the Braves and (lately) the Falcons.

The last thing I will say here is that my politics tend towards the left hand of the political spectrum. I don't know how much this will come up, but I will say that I always hope to find common ground with reasonable Republicans and other types.

I think that's about enough for now.