11 May 2012

Science fiction and the Sun in Jan 2012

Science fiction | Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter
This is an excellent illustration for my next two book reviews. [Some spoilers, but nothing that you won't read by mid-book yourself].

These books are Time's Eye and Sunstorm,books 1 and 2 in theTime Odyssey series by AC Clarke and Stephen Baxter. "Time Odyssey" seems to be a quick brand extension of the "Space Odyssey" that brought Sir Arthur so much fame. The other bit of history I will add is that these two were collaborators since they wrote Light of Other Days together.

Now, I like AC Clarke books, and I like Stephen Baxter stories, but the collaborations don't quite hit the same right note. That said, the books are good enough for fast reads.

Unfortunately, the older I get, the more nitpicky I get (the polite term people use around me is 'over-analytical'). The plots are fine, the technicals are all fine, but somehow, in these collaborations, the characters don't quite get to be people I care about.

Time's Eye is the better story of the two. Bisesa Dutt, a lieutenant (why do they spell it this way and pronounce it leftinant?) in the British Army in 2037, is seconded to the UN, and she is flown into a time-slip in a helicopter crash. Along with her and the chopper crew, arbitrarily selected people from all over the past are also time-slipped into a patchwork world, watched by the sinister Time's Eyes. The cast includes Rudyard Kipling, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan (not Chengez Khan?), and the more straightforwardly fictional Casey and Josh from the USA, Abdikadir the Pashtun, Kolya the Russian and Sable the abrasive black woman astronaut. Kolya the Russian cosmonaut knows all about English history, and looks down on London from space with nostalgia and fondness (but not Moscow). Bisesa, the third generation Indian-origin Brit, has a daughter named Myra. So why is she 'Bisesa' (which, if I guess the language right, means 'special')?

Gaah. Anyway, we meet some proto-humans, a war, and Bisesa using cobbled-together electronics from a crashed copter to 'sense' the purpose/sentience behind the Eyes. We get pop intros to string theory, and poor Pauli's exclusion principle once more gets pop treatment: 'mind' results in observations at the quantum level. Gaah.

Anyway, no spoilers for the end, but Bisesa shows up in the sequel, Sunstorm.The sequel starts with the last chapter of book 1. Bisesa reaches home, London. The world has a Prime Minister of Europe, another one in the UK, both female, a female Spanish President of the USA, and assorted other female politicians. The exception is the European President, who is the King of the UK, having been mysteriously elected unanimously. Gaah moment again. Anyhow, fortunately, the action is provided by a student of the Sun predicting a major solar storm correctly, and so getting taken seriously when he predicts the sun will explode in 5 years. Ha ha ha, laugh +Camilla Corona SDO and other academics. The whole world starts to work together to avoid mass extinction. A shield is created (ha, I guessed that is what they'd do, since, as the book says, this is no asteroid we can push aside, this is The Sun!) Here's the spoiler: the Firstborn (the sentience behind the Eyes) is behind the blow-up.

Oh well, I guess I'll go look for the sequel to see what happens when humans locate the Firstborn. But, hey, not with breathless enthusiasm.

In the meantime, enjoy these pix of solar plasma ejections from the Sun, via+Camilla Corona SDO , and be grateful that some people still find solar study exciting and sexy. Maybe we will get a real-life Eugene. If not crowds of women politicians, world-spanning AIs, ubiquitous softwalls for communication, and a manned Mars landing by 2042. And, yes, there will really be a solar eclipse then. :)

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