The Children of the Sky

[Amazon Link] I don't read a lot of new science fiction, but I try to keep up with Vernor Vinge. This 2011 book is a sequel to 1992's A Fire Upon the Deep. Some sequels are tolerable to read on their own, but that's not the case here: you really need to read that one first.

Unfortunately, I read A Fire Upon the Deep back in the 90's sometime. I liked it (of course, why would I read the sequel otherwise?) but the details of plot and character kind of faded with time. Should you have the flexibility, I'd recommend reading them closer together.

But I eventually got back up to speed and found myself enjoying The Children of the Sky quite a bit. The premise is that a group of humans (mainly "Children" brought out of suspended animation) are marooned on Tines World, which is embedded in a "slow" area of the galaxy where faster-than-light travel and other technological miracles are impossible. That's a good thing though, because the "Blight", which has wiped out the rest of humanity, can't get to them.

The prime natives of Tines World are wolflike creatures, whose intelligence only exists in small tightly-knit collectives of individuals, communicating near-psychically via high-pitched sound. Their initial encounters with humans (in FUtD) were lethal, but in this book there's widespread Human-Tine cooperation. Which is fortunate, because the Blight is still out there, and they only have a limited time to (essentially) reinvent technological civilization and develop an effective defense.

Unfortunately, there are bad eggs among both humans and Tines. Pretty soon, our heroes are the victims of deception and murderous treachery.

Vinge does a fantastic job of developing this world and its inhabitants, interesting and sympathetic characters, and a page-turning plot (once it gets going, anyway). I kept wishing for pictures and maps.

Oh yeah: not to spoil anything, but Vinge has pretty clearly set the stage for at least one more book in the series. I only hope it comes out in less than 19 years.

Last Modified 2012-11-15 5:48 AM EST

The Grey

[3.0 stars] The Grey (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

Here's a depressing little bit of information: if you survive a horrific plane crash in Alaska, you can still get eaten by wolves.

That's the premise of the movie, not really a spoiler. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the whole plot too. Details: Liam Neeson is the star, playing Ottaway. His job is to shoot wolves that approach his employer's Alaskan oil rig. He's kind of a moody guy; a scene near the beginning shows him contemplating blowing his brains out, and he keeps having visions of a lovely woman who, for reasons initially unspecified, is no longer available to him.

But he decides to go on living for a while, and gets on that doomed plane with other oil workers. Soon enough he and his raggedy co-survivors are going about the grim business of how to stay alive long enough to return to a civilized place—or at least a place where a guy isn't likely to be turned into instant Purina Wolf Chow.

The survivors are a contentious bunch, and there's a lot of very off-color language. You may not like the ending; Mrs. Salad hated it. And I liked it a little better than this guy, but this bears quoting:

Naturally and by the way, the major message here is that there is no God, and also he really hates you.

On the other hand, see Andrew Klavan who liked it more than I did.

Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:42 AM EST