Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Book review: Lights in the Deep

LD provides a second look at Brad Torgersen's Lights in the Deep:

I went into this with two disadvantages: I wasn't at all familiar with the author, and I haven't regularly read short form science fiction for many, many years. I ended up enjoying this collection nonetheless.

Diving into these stories quickly reminded me why I'm not as big a fan of short stories as I used to be--the limitations in form itself. As a young man I would devour short stories, but just about any author, but particularly Larry Niven, Heinlein, Zelazy, Keith Laumer, Robert Sheckley, and other similar authors. Back then, quick dips into short stories appealed to me, but now that I'm an old man, I find my tastes trending toward larger sized (huge) Space Operas from Peter F. Hamilton, Neal Asher, Alastair Reynolds, etc.

The only recent short story collections I had read were by Hamilton, and those were related for the most part to the various novels he's written, so this was my first dive into a collection like this in years.

I'll make quick comments about each entry in the collection and then give my summary.

The Three Introductions - I read them, but I couldn't tell you a thing about them now. They were nice, but didn't contain anything memorable. Neither a plus, nor a minus to the whole.

Outbound - Quite a good story, one that I would have been happy to see expanded to novel length. For me the downsides were the brevity of this story... I wanted more detail about this setting.

Gemini 17 - A nice exploration of a *slightly* alternate history. Fun story with a good, humorous ending.

Influences: Allan Cole and Chris Bunch - I'm not familiar with either author, but it's always nice to see the influences in an author's background.

The Bullfrog Radio Astronomy Project - Be careful what you transmit or the Men in Black (or are they) will come for you. It brought back memories of laughing at the Art Bell show.

Exiles of Eden - Another nice story. I figured out what was happening before the characters did. It's an interesting concept that you'll be familiar with if you've read Alastair Reynolds "Revelation Space" novels.

Writer Dad: Mike Resnick - More background on the author.

Footprints - A character piece. Perhaps a bit too "literary" for my tastes.

The Exchange Officers - This excellent story is the polar opposite of most of the previous stories. It has action, combat, technology, and less emphasis on memories, and feelings. Perhaps my second favorite story in the collection.

Essay: On the Growth of Fantasy and the Waning of Science Fiction - An excellent subject to discuss that's quite relevant to my own thoughts and tastes. I'm NOT a fantasy fan. I've read Lord of the Rings once, and that was quite enough for me thank you. I enjoy the Game of Thrones TV show, but my attempt to start reading the first novel resulted in boredom and sleepytime. I'm a HARD SF kinda guy, and this essay covers some of the things that bug me with current SF/Fantasy--I hate Star Wars, especially the second trilogy, I only liked the original Star Trek, anyone who likes Avatar is an Ava-tard in my book. My opinion is that the growth of fantasy reflects the decline of STEM in modern American society. Fantasy is perfect for those with less than a firm grasp on science.

The Chaplain's Assistant - A return to a "character-based" story. Interesting, but ultimately boring to me. I was not enthused to find out that the next long story in this collection was a sequel to this.

The Chaplain's Legacy - My lack of enthusiasm for the previous story caused me to put the entire collection down for a few days, but I had volunteered to review this book for Vox, so I did my duty and read the story. The good news is that I liked this much more than the previous short, though in my opinion the size could have been condensed.

The Hero's Tongue: Larry Niven - Of all of the essays in the book, this one was the most enjoyable for me because of my own fondness for Niven.

Exanastasis - Interesting, enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable.

Ray of Light - The final story of the collection and probably my favorite. There were points in this story where I thought it was going to break badly, but the story didn't go in the direction I thought it would end up, and I enjoyed it a lot.

The last story really brought my opinion of the whole collection back up from a low spot. I enjoy Torgerson's writing style, and I will look up some of his longer work, but probably not the forthcoming "Chaplain" story.

I'd give this collection a solid 3 out of 5 stars.

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Blogger JaimeInTexas October 09, 2013 10:44 AM  

Outbound and Ray of Light were the stories I liked, especially Ray of Light. I grew up on the water, so to speak, surfing, sailing, swimming and spear fishing (free style). I love the ocean. It is my element. One time I experienced a near drowning, at a place called Wilderness, north-west of Puerto Rico, I was surfing the winter swells. Well, sort of surfing. I did not ride any waves since conditions were really out of my league. The waves grew to about the height of a normal neighborhood street light pole, at the face, and I was on my short surfboard. Most everyone else had their guns -- surfboards at least 7 ft. long. A wave broke on top of me and sent me spinning and into the "washing machine." All was dark, I pulled my shock cord and try to get some direction and flotation but the board was spinning and pulled by the current. Just when I thought I was about to inhale water, in the desperation of running out of air, I broke the surface. That is what Lights in the Deep reminded me.

Anonymous Daniel B (@publiusdb) October 09, 2013 4:44 PM  

As it goes, I had a slightly different experience at the same juncture: I've not spent a lot of time reading short fiction, let alone short sci-fi, but reading Lights in the Deep has turned me on to it. I've since found other short fiction writers that I have very much enjoyed, and I credit Torgersen with pointing me towards a previously unknown taste (and there's really no accounting for taste, so I'll give you that).

Also, I very much enjoyed the Chaplain stories, and I thought they were among the high points of the collection. Less action, maybe, but thoughtful and out there on the edge of imagination. (And I'm looking forward to buying the Chaplain novel when it's finished and released).

Anonymous Daniel October 09, 2013 4:46 PM  

Huh. You had mostly positive experiences with more than 80% of the stories. That's a four-star review in my book. You are a tough judge! That's not bad - just that I usually skip 3 star reviewed books, but this critique makes me want to read the Lights, for what it is worth.

Anonymous LL October 09, 2013 6:15 PM  

I would like to point out that all of these different reviews indicate more independent thinking than Pox gives everyone credit for. You would assume that if we were all cookie-cutter blind idiots following in Vox's shadow, these would be 100% positive reviews for Vox's fans or pet authors. Seems as if that isn't the case. Hmmm, go figure.

Blogger Markku October 09, 2013 6:22 PM  

That's a four-star review in my book.

Well, since he would have left it unfinished were it not for the obligation to Vox, I'd say that 4 stars would have given the wrong impression.

Anonymous lozozlo October 09, 2013 6:46 PM  

Fantasy is perfect for those with less than a firm grasp on science.

A science-fetishist?

Blogger CarpeOro October 10, 2013 11:01 AM  

Regarding influences, Alan Cole and Chris Bunch were a writing team for a couple of series (the Sten series was very good, tailed off a bit at the very end but still enjoyable). One of them died a few years ago I think. As a team and individually they wrote Sci Fi primarily, but one fantasy series also.

Blogger lubertdas October 10, 2013 11:32 AM  

Review author here: Markku pretty well sums up my thoughts on my final rating for this collection.

A science-fetishist? Perhaps... but I think it has more to do with my background and my own tastes. I can remember the day my father handed me a copy of Heinlein's "Tunnel in the Sky", and the day I started to love reading, particularly science fiction. If he had handed me a copy of "The Hobbit", things might be different.

Anonymous Beau October 10, 2013 6:50 PM  

Today I turned off my phone and read Lights in the Deep on the back porch. It provided the right amount of engagement to refresh a weary soul - exactly what I'd expect from an anthology of short stories. Well done.

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