Review: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

A Fire Upon the Deep
Vernon Vinge

Tor Books
430 pages
Science Fiction / Space / Aliens

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

A Fire upon the Deep is the big, breakout book that fulfills the promise of Vinge's career to date: a gripping tale of galactic war told on a cosmic scale.
Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these "regions of thought," but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.
Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.

If you’ve listened to any of the last three episodes of the Working for the Mandroid podcast, you’ve probably already heard about how much I did not like this book. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mindset to read a densely written and oddly plotted sci-fi adventure mixed with weird medieval alien worlds. Or maybe there was never a time that I would have enjoyed this entirely too long novel.

A Fire Upon the Deep is two stories in one: that of two children who find themselves captives of an alien race on a distant planet, caught between two warring clans in a medieval style war, and another story of a woman traveling across the universe in an attempt to get the one thing that will destroy a catastrophic being before it devours half the galaxy while facing obstacle after obstacle trying to stop her. Either of these stories could have been interesting on their own, but smooshing them together made the story feel unfocused as it meandered to the point that the big frightening catastrophic being became much of an afterthought halfway through the book.

I was so unengaged with this book that I honestly can’t remember many of the characters’ names, including the main ones. None of them are very dynamic or become much more than one dimensional place holders for more interesting people. By the end, when the big battle occurred, they could have all died in a firy crash and I would have been happy the book was finally over. I never cared about anyone, especially not the dog-like packs of animals that were the main alien race on the medieval style world. They all had very similar voices with the exception of one or two that I had difficulty telling them apart.

Large plot points that attempted to seem significant could have been removed whole sale with little effect on the end results of the story, which is partly because the big bad sentient something or other was sidelined so early on. I kept expecting events that seemed like set up for bigger turns in plot to result in something, only for more nothing to happen.

There is one compelling scene when Relay, a base built through anti-grav material above the atmosphere of a distant planet, starts to disintegrate. I began to have home for this story, but as that action sequence came to a conclusion, more nothing returned. The final battle was mildly interesting, but ended with multiple whimpers. The rest just made me fall asleep. I honestly could barely make it 20 pages in this book at a time before I found myself nodding off, which is not something that usually happens to me.

Other members of my book club found elements of A Fire Upon the Deep to enjoy, but I found this book to be an incredible disappointment and a general waste of time that made me not want to read at all. That’s not even mentioning how confusing the beginning of this book is because Vinge decides to wait several chapters before explaining his complex alien creatures (who all have multiple bodies though he doesn’t explain that up front so I floundered trying to figure out what the heck was going on), only to then go into far too much detail with pages upon pages of information about alien anthropology. This might appeal to someone with far more patience for dry world building and willingness to overlook unnecessary plot lines that might take several books to come to any fruitful conclusion. That, however, is not me, so I’m going to pretend that I’ve never heard of this book and move on.

Random Tuesday: My Very First Loot Crate - The Unboxing

A coworker finally gave me that last little nudge to convince me to join Loot Crate a few weeks ago. After resisting for months, knowing that we have too much geek stuff around the house, I learned that October's Loot Crate theme was space. I like space. Space has aliens. And Firefly. I gave in and today I got a present in the mail. While some might do their unboxings as videos, you don't want to hear my voice, so have pictures instead.

This was in my mailbox and I got really excited. Presents!

But what's inside? Give me the presents!

Wait, did someone accidentally pack their toupee in my Loot Crate? What is this nonsense?

It's a Tribble! I've decided to name him Phil. He looks like a Phil, right? What else is in this box of space magic?

Hey, it's a Funko box! It's not a Pop, but I still like me some Funko. Who could be inside?

It's my favorite Captain!! Isn't he cute? He will soon be my desk mate too. Mal will protect me from crazy at work, I think. What else could be in this magic box?

Mal brought me space money!! If only it could be used to buy more Funkos. Oooh, he also brought a villian to fight.

It's the alien from Alien! He's kind of creepy. I don't think he'll be hanging out at my desk. And finally the last bits of space goodness in this box...

It looks like Loot Crate realized I've been hungry all the time, so they sent me a snack. I didn't even know they made Watermelon flavored Pop Rocks. I think I might have to use them to make cookies. That's also a Star Wars-meets-Asteroids magnet, codes to download Halo comics and a little Loot Crate magazine.

So did Loot Crate live up to its hype? If they send me a little cute Captain Mal every month, they will definitely keep up their end of the bargain. I'm not a huge Alien fan, but that action figure is still pretty neat and my life has been missing a tribble. I look forward to seeing what shows up on my doorstep next month.

Did anyone else get a Loot Crate this month? What did you think of the Space box?

Author Blog Tour Interview & Contest: Christian Schoon, Under Nameless Stars & Zenn Scarlett

Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on Christian Schoon's blog tour for Under Nameless Stars, the sequel to last year's Zenn Scarlett. Thanks to Christian and Strange Chemistry, we have all sorts of goodies today. Christian has stopped by for a chat and he brought along with him an excerpt of Under Nameless Stars and an opportunity to win some great prizes. You can see all the tour stops here and learn more about the tour-wide competition to win copies of the Zenn Scarlett and even your own star! But first let's meet Christian.


Welcome to Working for the Mandroid, Christian! For those of our readers who are unfamiliar with your Zenn Scarlett series, how would you describe it in two sentences or less?

The books chronicle the adventures of a teen girl in her novice year of exoveterinarian training. Book one introduces us to Zenn’s occasionally disastrous experiences at the Ciscan Cloister exovet school and clinic on Mars and preps us for the interstellar conspiracy that ensnares Zenn and her friends in book two.

Your main character, Zenn, is an exoveterinarian-in-training. For those unfamiliar with the term, what is an exoveterinarian and why did you choose this particular profession for your character?

An exovet is a veterinarian specializing the diagnosis, care and treatment of diseased or injured alien life forms. Zenn’s is leaning toward a sub-specialty in off-world mega-fauna, so she regularly interacts with such species as Mu Arae whalehounds (marine predator, 80 to 100 feet), Tanduan swamp sloos (estuarine insectivore, 190 to 220 feet),  crypto-plasmoid seepdemons (giant unicellular organism, roughly 10-foot diameter), Greater Kiran Sunkiller (gas giant upper atmospheric filter-feeder, 1,500-foot wingspan) and Lithohippus Indrae, or Stonehorse (vacuum-dwelling synapsid, 500 to 800 feet).

I found Zenn’s choice of profession an interesting career since I hadn’t run across it anywhere else in SF novels. There were a few exo-physician types, and after I started my series I later found one or two passing references to vets treating alien animals in TV shows and fan lit, but nothing that really got down in the weeds of what it might take to become an exovet and what one’s life would then entail on a day-to-day basis. And, of course, because: Indra.

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

Waiting on Wednesday was started by Breaking the Spine and serves to showcase those books we’re not so patiently waiting to arrive!

The Infinite Sea
Rick Yancey

Putnam Juvenile
Releases September 16, 2014
480 pages

Find it on Goodreads

Preorder from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

The riveting follow-up to the New York Times bestselling The 5th Wave, hailed by Justin Cronin as “wildly entertaining.”

How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.

My book club is actually reading The 5th Wave this month and it's just reminded me how much I loved that book. It was surprising, caused me to beat up my couch and made my pulse pound a time or two. I'm really excited to see where Yancey takes his cast of characters after the explosive conclusion to The 5th Wave.

Review: Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

If you're interested in hearing from the author, she stopped by Working for the Mandroid last week as part of her tour! Read her thoughts on aliens and science fiction influences and enter to win a copy of Tin Star here.

Tin Star
Cecil Castellucci

Roaring Brook Press
I received an ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Releases February 25, 2014
240 pages
YA / SciFi / Aliens

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

On their way to start a new life, Tula and her family travel on the Prairie Rose, a colony ship headed to a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. All is going well until the ship makes a stop at a remote space station, the Yertina Feray, and the colonist's leader, Brother Blue, beats Tula within an inch of her life. An alien, Heckleck, saves her and teaches her the ways of life on the space station.

When three humans crash land onto the station, Tula's desire for escape becomes irresistible, and her desire for companionship becomes unavoidable. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill Brother Blue, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the farthest thing from her mind.

Stranded on a space station with only various alien races to keep you company? I am there! The idea behind Tin Star captivated me from the moment I first heard of it. A teenage human girl left on her own to deal with alien races and space politics to survive is not something regularly found in YA lit. I hadn’t read any of Castellucci’s previous books, so I was really intrigued to see what she was about.

Tin Star opens with Tula standing on the dock of a space station questioning Brother Blue, the leader of her group of colonists, on why their supply of grain has been uploaded from the ship when they’re about to leave for their new home. Brother Blue doesn’t take this questioning very lightly and beats her to death (he thinks), leaving her in an alcove for a space janitor to find later. He makes a big powerful speech that clearly marks him as a conman and the leader of a cult to the reader, loads up everyone on the ship and sends them on their way while he goes on a separate ship.

A lot of space politics are floating just beneath the surface of this book. At the beginning Earth is an isolationist planet, so that anyone who leaves to colonize other planets or associate with aliens are banned from ever returning. Later on the Imperium – the intergalactic governing body, I think – has convinced the Earth to join them with Brother Blue acting as one of their key ambassadors.

While there’s some explanation between what distinguishes the more respected Major alien races from the Minor alien races, the politics are kept in the shadow so that they don’t bog down the story. At its core Tin Star is a story of revenge – Tula getting revenge for being left behind and for the tragic outcome of her family at Brother Blue’s hands. The politics just allow for the right players to be in the right place at the right time.

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Waiting on Wednesday: Alienated by Melissa Landers

Waiting on Wednesday was started by Breaking the Spine and serves to showcase those books we’re not so patiently waiting to arrive!

One day Random Tuesday will return, but so far in 2014, I've had epically bad Tuesdays and so I'm not really in the mood for randomness by the time blogging time comes around. But sometime soon! On a Random Tuesday! There will be RANDOM THINGS! Until then, here is what I'm making grabby hands at this week:

Melissa Landers

Disney Hyperion
Releases February 4, 2014
352 pages

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them. 

Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.

Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.

But when Cara's classmates get swept up by anti-L'eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn't safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara's locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class. 

Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she's fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet 

A few weeks back we watched a movie called Upside Down. The next day I saw this cover for the first time and thought they must be related somehow. Then I read the description and saw that it involved aliens. I immediately new this would be SO MUCH BETTER than that movie about two worlds hovering over one another. Alien romances are fun. This cover is extremely intriguing.

Trailer Park Friday: Movies I'd Never Heard Of & Don't Watch Television with Sherlock

My usual trailer watching was supercharged this week due to this handy list of 65 science fiction and fantasy films set to come out in 2014. After a somewhat weak year in movies last year, I'm getting excited at the potential before me. Don't let me down, movie people!

I had never heard of Welcome to Yesterday until I read through that list on io9, but it's an indie comedy about teenagers building a time travel machine. It looks pretty predictable, but there's a tiny piece of me that hopes it's as good as Chronicle, which it keeps getting compared to. It will be released (probably limitedly) on February 28.

And another movie that somehow I had never heard of before now. It's called Under the Skin and it involves Scarlett Johansson playing an alien. It comes out April 4 and it looks bizarre.

Kite is an anime adaptation that I had (yep) never heard before, but it follows in the trend of teenage girl assassin movies soon to be coming out. It has Samuel L Jackson in it and exploding heads. One of my guilty pleasures is watching girl ninjas as lead characters of your standard action fare, but even this looks more like an internet parady video than a legitamate movie. The trailer and some clips are below (originally posted on Bloody Disgusting). There isn't a release date for it scheduled yet.

And finally to lighten the mood - what it would be like to watch television with Sherlock. It was created by Leigh Lahav and, after the twist at the end left me giggling like a mad woman, now I want to watch everything she's ever created. Warning: there are spoilers for other shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, but no spoilers for Sherlock. Spoilerphobes watch with care.

And that's it from me this week. What interesting videos or trailers have you come across this week? Link 'em up in the comments.