Higher Education

The Jerry Pournelle series continues with a collaboration with Charles Sheffield. This is an expansion of their story of the same name in Future Quartet and part of the Jupiter series from Tor. That was an attempt to resurrect, in the 1990s, the tradition of the Robert A. Heinlein juvenile novel. All the Jupiter books were unrelated in their stories.

Raw Feed (1997): Higher Education, Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle, 1996.Higer Education

This book was a pleasant if not great read and, I suspect, a great deal like Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novels of which I’ve only read Starship Troopers and, a long time ago, The Rolling Stones. [In fact, I may have read that before Robert Silverberg’s Revolt on Alpha C, but it was the latter novel which gave me a taste for science fiction.]

It’s the story of a youth learning adult responsibilities and a lot of math and science – the authors deliver some good minor science lessons in passing including one on why rings around planets can’t be solid.

The plot of corporate espionage and sabotage (I liked that the saboteur was allegedly from the Black Hills) was, if my memory is correct, added from the novella of the same name. In the short story, protagonist Rick Luban finishes training and his employer tries to recruit him for training Earthside. The novel ends with a similar pitch but after more training.

The main flaw is, given the supposedly even more decadent, ignorant, and violent schools of the future, Rick Luban and the other delinquents of his school seem way too tame in their behavior and lack of profanity (perhaps toned down for a juvenile reader?) to be the problem children of tomorrow. They seem like problem children of the fifties. Continue reading

Future Quartet

The Jerry Pournelle series continues with his involvement in a project that included Ben Bova, Frederik Pohl, and Charles Sheffield.

Raw Feed (1995): Future Quartet: Earth in the Year 2042: A Four-Part Invention, eds. Ben Bova, Frederik Pohl, Jerry Pournelle, Charles Sheffield, 1994.Future Quartet

Introduction”, Charles Sheffield — The origins of the project and its assignment to Ben Bova, Frederik Pohl, Jerry Pournelle, and Charles Sheffield to provide perspectives ranging utopian to dystopian. There is also an interesting list of technologies and sociopolitcal events and problems not considered by futurists of 50 years ago.

2042:  A Cautiously Pessimistic View”, Ben Bova — Bova’s futuristic speculations related in fictional form as an address by Chiblum C. Lee, Chairman of the World Council. Bova postulates a world of climate change from global warming (desertification and famine), cheap energy (fusion and solar power satellites), aquaculture, and deep-sea mining where space is starting to be exploited. However, it is also a world of over ten billion people with a large gap between rich and poor countries. Lee proposes taxing rich countries to better the lot of poor countries. (The old foreign aid scheme which doesn’t work now because poor countries are poor through internal political and social problems and nothing else.) He realizes that the rich countries must see this to be in their self-interest, that coercion will not work and that vested interest will resist change. Nothing real new here. I thought Bova was more conservative and had faith in free markets as the tool to enrichments.  This is a scenario of bigger foreign aid.

The Kingdom Come”, Ben Bova — An alright story narrated in first person and a take-off on Bova’s “2042:  A Cautiously Pessimistic View” before it in the anthology. It involves protagonist Salvatore Passalacqua from the grim inner city of Philadelphia and his prostitute girlfriend (an unrequited love). Both don’t legally exist, and both get involved in a plot to take World Chairman Lee hostage. This is a pretty standard sf tale of a poor, violent future urban America with only a few points of interest. First, Passalacqua is a electronics genius. Second, the terrorists kidnapping Lee are not entirely bad. They want the World Council to depose dictators in their own countries, but the World Council refuses to interfere with nations’ internal affairs. Third, the Controllers are accused of all sorts of things throughout the story but seem to be a branch of the Controllers who help certain individuals out of poverty via education. Lastly, Passalacqua rejects a world of interconnectedness, a world where the poor can be helped and things changed. In a plot contrary to the usual poor-person-accidentally-given-the-chance-at-betterment–and-taking-it plot, he rejects his chance at education and returns to die in Philadelphia (it’s presumed). His girlfriend takes her chance, though, and studies law. Continue reading

Borderlands of Science

Charles Sheffield.


But this time it’s just science.

A retro review from October 5, 2003.

Review: Borderlands of Science, Charles Sheffield, 1999.Borderlands of Science

There are two primary audiences for this work. The first is anybody interested in understanding a wide variety of scientific topics. Though not as thorough and wide ranging as Isaac Asimov’s science guides, Sheffield writes with the same clarity and his own style of wit. Even somebody who regularly reads popular science magazines may find some new insights here.

Sheffield delves into the origins of life, subnuclear and quantum physics, possible mechanisms for space travel, physical descriptions of the solar system, superconductivity, viruses and prions, and a lot more including a whole section on “scientific heresies”.

The second audience are those interested in writing science fiction, specifically the sort of hard science fiction Sheffield wrote. To suggest story ideas, Sheffield explores some of the borders of modern science where conventional theory gives way to speculation. Along the way, he points out some common traps to avoid when handling topics like near lightspeed travel and suggests specific fiction titles as examples of how a concept has been dealt with. He does not offer any advice on the literary aspects of science fiction or in marketing it. His sole interest is in helping you get your real science right and make your imaginary science plausible.

While the book doesn’t have a whole lot about the thought processes of scientists, Sheffield does cover the historical and contemporary objections to some scientific theories, the prejudices that sometimes blind good scientists, and some of the amazing minds that have roamed across several disciplines.

Admirers of Sheffield’s fiction will also probably like the asides about its scientific inspiration.

My only objection to the book is that I wish some sections would have had more detail.

The book includes a useful bibliography of fact and fiction titles for further research and an index.


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Dark As Day

More Sheffield.

Another retro review. This time from October 1, 2003.

Review: Dark As Day, Charles Sheffield, 2002.Dark As Day

Those returning to the universe of Sheffield’s Cold As Ice and The Ganymede Club will be pleased to find their old friend Bat here. The reclusive, snoopy genius has exiled himself to a moon of Saturn. Unfortunately, his home on Pandora figures in the plans of the ruthless and pushy Ligon family who want to reverse their recent slide from third to tenth in the rankings of richest companies in the solar system.

Reluctantly involved in their plot is Alex Ligon, sort of the black sheep of the family. When not being bullied by his family into running errands — or auditioning for arranged marriages — he works for the government rather than Ligon Industries. He’s proud of a vast, sophisticated computer model of the entirety of human civilization in the solar system — until it shows mankind going extinct in less than a century. Bad modelling or a ominous and valid warning?

Meanwhile, young Millie Wu has signed on to work for one half of the Beston brothers — aka the Bastard and the Ogre, SETI researchers whose obsession about finding alien signals is matched only by their obsession with besting each other. Wu can’t quite believe her luck when she seems to have detected a genuine signal.

On Earth, Janeed Jannex and her childhood friend Sebastian Birch decide to emigrate to space, but their recruiters prove to surprisingly be interested in Birch’s almost idiot savant fascination with, of all things, clouds. Continue reading

The Ganymede Club

More Charles Sheffield.

Another retro review.

This time from September 22, 2003 …

Review: The Ganymede Club, Charles Sheffield, 1995.Ganymede Club

It’s five years after the Great War that killed nine billion people in the Solar System, but violence hasn’t ceased. It’s just returned to the traditional forms of individual murder for profit and paranoia
The targets in question are haldane Lola Belman, a therapist trained in the aracana of the mathematical underpinnings of the brain, psychotropic drugs, and medicine, and her patient who seems to be suffering a severe bout of false memories.

Unlike its prequel Cold As Ice, there are not a lot of neat scientific concepts here. The plot is not driven by scientific exploration and corporate and political intrigue but mostly by the suspense of the characters trying to figure out things the reader knows already, specifically who’s trying to kill them and why. And those characters are generally a more interesting lot than those in the earlier novel. The only overlap in the cast is with the best character: the Bat, an obese and extremely private genius who delights in solving all sorts of puzzles from scheduling conflicts in the spaceship transportation network to murder. Here we see him twenty years earlier in his career.

Essentially, if you like a good, suspenseful science fiction tale with a bit of hard science, this novel is for you. Sheffield has created, in these books, a universe of adventure, discovery, and intrigue about 90 years in the future. Each stands alone, and the books can be read in any order.


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I won’t bore you with all the reasons you’re getting another retro review.

Charles Sheffield is one of those authors I’m fond of. I’ve even read most of his work, but I have not reviewed that much of it.

From July 28, 2003 …

Review: Resurgence, Charles Sheffield, 2002.Resurgence

In the fifth novel of the Heritage Universe, the Builders, those aliens who scattered around huge, occasionally useful, sometimes deadly, artifacts about our part of the galaxy, have competition. Another force is destroying their work and sucking the heat and life out of entire solar systems.

Troubleshooter Hans Rebka, obsessed Builder scholar Darya Lang, the shady team of Louis Nenda and Atvar H’sial, their strangely loyal slaves, the exuberant and impatient E. C. Tally (an embodied computer), and Ethical Counselor Julian Graves again find themselves exploring the Builders’ works and speculating as to what they mean.

This may be the most humorous book of the series, and the characters are at their most interesting. The action set pieces in frozen solar systems are inventive and suspenseful.

This is not a good entry point for the series, though. You’ll want to follow the enigma of the Builders from the beginning starting with Sheffield’s Convergent series and then Transvergence.

And, unfortunately, with Sheffield’s death, some Builder questions will remain unanswered.


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Another ancient review for you while I work on righting some new ones.

From November 22, 1997 …

Review: Convergence, Charles Sheffield, 1997

The story opens with news that the Artifacts, centerpiece of this series, seem to be changing and, in some cases, disappearing. To further complicate matters, Artifact expert Darya Lang finds her academic turf threatened with the sudden appearance of newcomer Quintus Bloom who tells her he has discovered a new Artifact and also has a theory about the Builders and the purpose of their Artifacts. He thinks they were built by future humans to foster our development.Convergence

In a huff, Darya Lang sets out to explore Labyrinth and prove Bloom wrong. Hans Rebka, after a lover’s quarrel with Lang, has no idea where she went and undertakes the exploration of another newly altered Artifact. Meanwhile, Louis Nenda and Atvar H’sial enter Bloom’s employ as he explores the Torvil Anfract, the Artifact discovered in the last book of the series, Transcendence.

The simultaneous exploration of these Artifacts gets a trifle tedious and confusing, but the characters make up for it.


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Thanks for giving us an old review of a dead author and the second book in a series.

You’re welcome.

From November 12, 1997 …

Review: Divergence, Charles Sheffield, 1992.Divergence

With the second book of the Heritage Universe series, Sheffield kicks things into high gear. All the characters from the first book are back along with the addition of E.C. Tally, a computer brain in a human body. The book gets a fair amount of comedy out of the discrepancy between his Federation supplied databanks and real galactic affairs.

But the main drama comes from further exploration of Builder artifacts and a meeting with artifical constructs of theirs who may or may not be telling the truth about the Builders’ origins and the purpose of their artifacts. Also making an appearance are the legendary Zardalu, land-octopi thought long dead after their Empire was overthrown by their underlings.

Sheffield also throws in some inventive entries from the Universal Species Catalog for humans and aliens, major and minor.


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