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Can a simple agrarian society save their world from the aliens stealing their resources?

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Artemis
by Andy Weir
Freedom's Landing
by Anne McCaffrey
Freedom's Choice
by Anne McCaffrey
Freedom's Challenge
by Anne McCaffrey
Freedom's Ransom
by Anne McCaffrey
Of Men and Monsters
by William Tenn
A Spell for Chameleon
by Piers Anthony
The Molecule Men (and the Monster of Loch Ness)
by Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle
The Flying Sorceres
by David Gerrold and Larry Niven
Artemis


By Andy Weir

Published November 14, 2017

Crown

Born in Saudi Arabia, Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara has lived on the moon since she was six. Now in her twenties, she works as a porter and smuggler. When Trond Landvik offers her one million slugs (moon money) to destroy some mining equipment, she takes it. Then things go wrong. She almost gets killed, people get murdered, and she still has to finish the job, not just for the money, but for the sake of everyone on the moon.

This is a great book with a few not so great bits. Andy Weir is a superb storyteller. The plot is exciting and moves along at just the right clip. It seldom strays too far from plausible science. Artemis, the first city on the moon, is quite believable.

There are a few things that didn't ring true. I don't think you could enjoy a cigar in a pure oxygen atmosphere. Wouldn't it burn too fast to smoke? Chloroform might be the least of the harmful chemicals produced in the explosion. And I doubt that enough would be produced to have such a widespread effect. But, it all seemed quite reasonable while I was reading.

My one real complaint with the book is that I didn't like the main character very much. She has an unrepentant criminal mindset. There's nothing sinister about Jazz. She is willing to die to save the city, but she has little respect for other people's possessions. That made it hard for me to really care for her.

Artemis is a good fun read. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Romana Drew on August 30, 2019.





Anne McCaffrey's Freedom series is posted in the order they were written.

Overall Impressions of the Cattani series

Kris and Zainal are dropped on an uninhabited planet along with many other humans and other species. They must survive, gain their freedom, and build a self-sustaining world.

The general writing and story-telling are excellent. McCaffery creates complex and believable words and characters. However, there are a very large number of characters, so it can be hard to develop an emotional connection to them. Even Kris and Zainal are written in a somewhat distant style. They have plenty of adventures and challenges, but they never leap for joy, or cry, or tremble with fear or anger.

These books are good fun reads with plenty of plot but little emotional depth.

Freedom's Landing


By Anne McCaffery

Copyright 1995 Ace Books

When the Catteni invade Earth, they Capture Kristin Bjornsen and take her to Barvi. Disliking life as a slave, she commandeers a flyer, escaping into the jungle. There, she rescues a Catteni from certain death, which may not have been the wisest thing to do. They both get captured and dropped on an uninhabited planet along with a few hundred other humans and aliens.

Sergeant Chuck Mitford takes command and turns the ragged band of strangers into a self-sufficient colony. They name the planet Botany. Even the rescued Catteni, Zainal, manages to fit in. And every few weeks, Catteni ships disgorge more unwitting settlers. It is their way of disposing of trouble makers and colonizing new worlds.

Although there aren't any people, sentient beings, native to Botany, someone has taken a great deal of effort to farm the world. It is covered with fertile fields of grain, herds of overly tame mammals, and a few predators to keep the place clean. It is one giant farm managed by machines.

As more humans and aliens are dropped, more experts are added to the population. Soon the colony is dismantling the mechanized farm machinery to make useful items, like comm units and transport vehicles. Just when life is getting almost comfortable, the Catteni return for Zainal. But he gives them a piece of his mind and stays on Botany.

Although Zainal is Emassi, a high ranking Catteni, his people do not rule the galaxy. They are slaves of the Eosi.

Zainal and Kristin's team find a building that looks like a planetary HQ. Mechanical genius, voyeur, and general pain in the ass, Dick Aarens launches a homing beacon, or maybe it's a torpedo.

At first, few trust Zainal. After all, he is Catteni, enslaver of worlds. He proves himself to be useful time and again, and more of Botany's population come to respect and trust him. Kristin even falls in love with him.

Freedoms Landing is a story about survival and determination. There are plenty of dangers, unique characters, and interesting aliens, both good and bad. Master storyteller Anne McCaffery, takes the reader through many adventures and discoveries with consummate skill.

This is an excellent book even though I don't think the settlers could have solved the basic survival challenges in so little time or quite so successfully. It doesn't really have an ending. Which is a bit disappointing. I like a good ending that wraps up a real challenge. Freedoms Landing solves many basic challenges but leaves the end wide open for a sequel. Since it is the first book in a four-part series, that isn't surprising.

Reviewed by Romana Drew July 2, 2019.



Freedom's Choice


By Anne McCaffery

Copyright 1997 Ace Books

Kristin Bjornsen and Zainal continue their adventures on Botany.

Mentat Ix, the Eosi who was supposed to subsume Zainal, took his brother instead. He knows Zainal escaped and is on Botany, so he sends ships to capture Zainal. Instead, Zainal captures the ships. This infuriates Ix, and he comes after Zainal again.

The farmers return and enclose the planet in a protective bubble, which further angers Ix. He uses a mind probe on humans looking for anything that might explain the bubble, although it isn't all that logical to do so. He finds little, but the mind probe leaves its victims traumatized into a stupor.

Zainal has a plan, not just to get supplies for Botany, but to free his world and the galaxy from the Eosi. However, the farmers forbid any "species injury," so he can't just kill the Eosi, but that is for a later book. Right now, the colony needs supplies and Kristin is pregnant - not by Zainal, of course.

Freedoms Choice takes the colony further into self-sufficiency and sets up for the next story. There is plenty of excitement and good storytelling, but this is a middle book. It also holds up as a stand-alone story.

Reviewed by Romana Drew on July 28, 2019.



Freedom's Challenge


By Anne McCaffrey

Published 1998 Ace/Putnam

Kris and Zainal continue their efforts to make Botany a successful colony, raise a family, and free the galaxy from Eosi domination.

Botany now has several ships. Humans can pass as Cattani, given enough makeup, contact lenses, and language lessons. So they visit several planets picking up supplies, information, and more dissident Cattani. Zainal has a plan to rid the universe of the Eosi but lacks the means until he meets a group of rescued Massi.

In Freedom's Challenge, the third book in the Freedom series, the characters take charge of their destiny, contacting other planets, and directly challenging the bad guys.

The two previous books in this series had huge casts. Freedom's Challenge adds several more characters making it hard to remember everyone.

As the colony expands, and skilled people join the gang, the technology improves, sometimes in very logical ways, and sometimes a bit unrealistically. Although the glass blowers are unable to make perfect drinking glasses, they somehow make colored contact lenses. That's a bit of a stretch. They also invent gray hair die, which is a serious bit of chemistry.

Cattani eyes are black with yellow pupils. Having an opaque spot in the middle of the eye makes for a complex bending of light around that spot to get it to light receptive cells. I can accept that in an alien species. However, a human wearing a contact lens with a yellow spot covering the pupil would be blind. Perhaps the yellow spot could be such that it only looked opaque and the wearer could see through it, but that is a serious bit of technology.

Freedom's Challenge is a fun story full of interesting characters - well worth reading.

Reviewed by Romana Drew August 9, 2019



Freedom's Ransom


By Anne McCaffrey

Published 2002 Ace/Putnam

Zainal has a plan to contact the Farmers, but first, he goes shopping. Kris, Zainal, his sons, and a few other colonists travel to Earth, pick up supplies and then head off to Baveri.

Lots of Cattani need dental work, and they like coffee. So our heroes need dental equipment and coffee to bargain with the Cattinai on Baveri. They already have a dentist.

This is the last book in the series, which is unfortunate because we never get to meet the farmers. That would have been a much more interesting story. Since this book starts out talking about plans to find the farmers, then goes on a shopping spree, it is a little disappointing, I kept waiting to find the farmers

Even so, it is a good read. The worldbuilding is excellent, and the plot keeps moving right along.

Reviewed by Romana Drew August 9, 2019



Of Men and Monsters


By William Tenn

Copyright 1968 This edition published in Great Britain, 2011, Gollancz, Orion Publishing

Monsters have taken over Earth, huge six-legged gray creatures that have tentacles instead of arms and hands. Humans live in their shadow like mice, burrowing inside the walls of the Monster's buildings.

Eric the Only is about to embark on his first Theft, the right of passage into manhood. If he succeeds, he will be known as Eric the Eye. Then he can find a wife. If he fails, he will be dead or relegated a lonely life as an outcast.

Eric must venture out of the safety of Mankind's burrows and into Monster territory. He has a choice. He can steal food, or useful items, or Monster souvenirs. The first is easy, the second possible, the third is nearly impossible and very dangerous. His uncle persuades him to go for the third category and tells him just how to do it.

On his quest for a Monster souvenir, Eric the Only, not only meets another tribe of humans but learns how to move about in Monster territory. However, while he is on his quest, his tribe is invaded and his world destroyed. He joins another tribe on their quest to destroy the Monsters, or so he thinks.

In this upside down world, there are wild humans living outside as animals, without culture or education. There are tribes that practice religions based on Alien-Science or Ancestor-Science, though neither is based on science. Both think of the other as heretics. Only the Aaron People have any real science.

The human cultures are well developed, but the Monster culture is glossed over. Since the story is told from Eric's point of view, that isn't surprising. The Monsters do trap, kill, and study the humans, much as humans do mice. As satire, this almost works.

Mice don't wear clothes nor do they carry weapons, but the humans in this story do both. The humans are obviously sentient, far evolved from wild animals. Even if the Monsters have no regard for other life forms, their treatment of humans, and their failure to recognize the human's intelligence, doesn't ring true. That, and a tendency to be a bit longwinded and preachy, make this not quite a grade A novel.

But it is definitely a good fun read. The characters are well developed and believable. The descriptions of burrow life and Monster territory, are quite believable. The Monster technology is creative and unique. And the conclusion, although not what Eric envisioned, is great. There is more than one way to explore the galaxy and settle new planets.

Reviewed by Romana Drew June 27, 2019.



A Spell for Chameleon


By Piers Anthony

1977 Ballantine Books & Del Rey

Bink will turn twenty-five very soon. If he doesn't figure what his magic talent is, he will be banished to Mundania where the non-magical live out their boring lives. In Xanth, every living thing is magical or has magic. Bink knows he isn't magical. He is a normal human. But all humans in Xanth must have magic.

Every person's magic is different. Some can make a pink spot on a wall, others a blue spot, useless but magical. Some can make a pit appear in the ground, or cast a clear shield to trip up any unsuspecting creature, useful if something is chasing you. The really powerful magicians can whip us storms or transform anything into anything else. They are the rulers of Xanth.

Bink travels to the good magician Humfrey's castle to find out if he has magic even though the price to ask a question is a year's service to Humfery. On the way, he meets the stunningly beautiful but intellectually vacuous Wynne and the absolutely average Dee. Humfrey tells Bink that he has magician strength magic, but it can't be identified. Unable to demonstrate his magic, Bink is banished to Mundania. He doesn't get far before the evil magician Trent intercepts him, and he meets the ugly, but brilliant, Fanchon.

The three of them, Bink, Trent, and Fanchon break back into Xanth, each with their own agenda. Trent wants to take over Xanth. Fanchon, who cycles into Dee and Wynn every month, wants to find a spell to make her normal. And Bink wants to find his magic talent and stay in Xanth.

A Spell for Chameleon is a well-crafted story that takes the reader on a journey through a land of the impossible and makes it all seem plausible. As the first of the Xanth novels, it doesn't have as many puns as I remember the later stories, but there are still plenty of fascinating dangers such as sneeze bees, talking trees, hawk moths, healing springs, and love potions.

Reviewed by Romana Drew January 1, 2019



The Molecule Men (and the Monster of Loch Ness)

Two short novels by Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle

1971 Harper & Row

The Molecule Men

The Molecule Men is the story about an alien invasion by a shape-shifting creature, but nothing is quite what it seems. First, the main character, Dr. West, encounters an odd passenger in the airport, R. A. Adcock. Later he meets Adcock again in a courtroom. Adcock can barely talk. Then, in the middle of the trial, he hurls himself through a window and turns into a swarm of giant bees. From there, things get even stranger.

It's a little hard to believe that Dr. West, a university professor, has such easy access to the Prime Minister of Great Britton, or that the PM spends so little time actually being Prime Minister. Also, the disappearance of all the cabinet members doesn't seem to cause much of an upheaval.

From the language to the setting, this book is uniquely English with lots of details of London. Although The Molecule Men was published in 1971, it feels as if it were written in 1951. This is a man's world. Not in a macho superman kind of way, but simply by the invisibility of female characters.


The Monster of Loch Ness

There is something at the bottom of Loch Ness according to Tom Cochrane and the Loch Ness Researchers. Both the turbidity and temperature readings are impossible. There has to be something either stirring up the lake or heating it. There is even a credible sighting and photographic proof of a flat-headed monster with a long neck and humps on its back.

A trip through the Loch Ness Visitor's Center will dispel any lingering doubts you might have. No monsters live in Loch Ness. Also, it assumes the temperature gradient and deuterium levels in the lake remain stratified and constant, yet lakes typically turn over every fall. As the weather cools, the surface water to sinks to the bottom and the bottom water to rises to the surface mixing everything. This makes the story was a bit hard to believe, but never fear, nothing is quite what it seems.

This is hard science fiction. From water temperature readings to deuterium levels, the author uses science to explain the abnormal findings and freak storms plaguing the area. As it turns out, something does live in Loch Ness, something alien.

The book has excellent descriptions of Scotland and a very British, or Scottish, use of language. For an American, some of the word usage may seem odd, but rather than distracting from the story, it adds character to the writing style and flavor to the setting.

The Authors

Fred Hoyle (1915 - 2001) is a well-known astronomer and Cambridge professor who wrote many nonfiction books and coauthored several science fiction books, most with his some Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Hoyle (1941 - ) co-authored most of his father's, Fred Hoyle's, science fiction books. He has also written a couple of books on his own.

Both The Molecule Men and The Monster of Loch Ness are well-written and entertaining stories. Although a bit out of date, they are worth reading.

The Flying Sorcerers

by David Gerrold and Larry Niven

1971 Del Rey Books

The Flying Sorcerers is the story of two sorcerers, or one sorcerer and one hapless human, depending upon your point of view. A researcher from Earth visits a primitive planet and gets stranded. He is determined to get back to his ship and go home, that is if Shoogar, doesn't kill him first.

His translator tells the natives his name is, as a color a shade of purple-gray, so they call him, Purple. His technology looks like magic to them. That is a threat to the reining sorcerer, Shoogar. So, of course, Shoogar must duel with Purple for the right to be the town sorcerer.

Although there is much talk of magic and spells, this is hard scifi. Shoogar may think he is using magic, but the descriptions suggest that he relies on basic chemistry and physics to make his spells work. On this pre-industrial world, Purple must build a flying machine to cross the ocean. In doing so, he restructures the entire society. It is a fascinating look at problem solving, sometimes farfetched, but always interesting.

I read this many years ago and had forgotten most of the story. I did remember Purple and was delighted to find that this is his book.

The Flying Sorcerers is a somewhat silly story told in a unique and fascinating way. However, the treatment of women is abysmal. And the names get a bit old. They are all 'in jokes,' such as Wilville and Orbur, the bicycle makers who build a flying machine called the Cathawk. This is called Tuckerization. I think David Gerrold and Larry Niven have carried the idea about as far as possible.

This is not a great masterpiece of literary fiction, but it is a good fun read. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Romana Drew September 2, 2018