RogerBW's Blog

The Galapagos Incident, Felix R. Savage 12 September 2016

2014 SF, first of the Solarian War Saga. Elfrida Goto works for the Space Corps, persuading asteroid-dwellers to accept resettlement before their asteroids are dropped into Venus as part of the terraforming project. But her telepresence robot is acting up, and then the space station she's living on comes under attack.

This is a very odd book. It's obviously aiming to be hard-looking SF in a single solar system in the vein of The Expanse, but it also starts to feel like a science-fictional version of the generic fantasyland: I got the impression that people were living in asteroids because that's a thing that happens in this sort of book, rather than because they actually had a reason to to.

Anyway, there's a lot of background, and the infodumps are hard work at first, even for me as an experienced SF reader. Mars was being colonised but isn't any more, thanks to an AI rebellion, though something is happening there; Japan isn't around any more thanks to a massive eruption of Mount Fuji; and so on. This sort of thing is always tricky, because the characters know this stuff having grown up in the world, while the reader has trouble working out their motivations before he knows it too; and yet infodumps are dull, and there's a limit to how much you can simply show in people's behaviour.

There's lots of good technical stuff about things like light-speed communication lag, explaining why the telepresence robot ("phavatar") has to have an onboard AI to handle things like walking around without multiple seconds of delay between seeing something and reacting to it. This particular AI seems rather smarter than it should be, and to have more control authority over the robot than it should; all good and interesting stuff. (Guvf yngre gheaf bhg gb unir orra zvfqverpgvba nf vg jnf fvzcyl orvat pbagebyyrq sebz fbzrjurer ryfr. Jung n yrg-qbja.)

But we also have spacecraft hurtling across the solar system and yet nobody is able to track them, to the extent that nobody knows where a particular set of enemies comes from; and particularly in the second half of the book as the action heats up we get nonsense like this:

"They're still accelerating," he stammered. "Delta-V is 300,000 … 320,000 meters per second!"

Yes, "delta-V" gets used to mean simply a ship's current speed… and what's worse, that rate of change implies an acceleration on the order of a thousand gravities, where the normal space drives can pull single-digit Gs at best and nobody has gravity compensators. And even worse:

flames rippled through the vacuum as the escaped oxygen caught fire

No. Just no. If you have a cloud of oxygen with no fuel, it's no more flammable than a cloud of fuel with no oxygen. And there's a plan to boost a space station into a higher orbit using its on-board mass driver, fair enough, but getting more thrust by firing mass driver slugs into the station so that they're already going downwards at high speed before the station's driver gets hold of them. Um, I think that's the exact opposite of anything that might do any good.

Characters are fairly minimal and some of them blend into each other. Some scenes are stretched out beyond any conceivable interest, while others are cut short or skipped over. It's very hard to get hold of much plot beyond the basics of what's happening; political machinations are being set up for later novels.

"We've been attacked before," Yonezawa said. His voice shook. "Twice by pirates. Once by a splinter group of Russian Orthodox antinomians."

"Uh, what did they do? Pray at you?"

"You better hope you never meet an Orthodox antinomian who bears a grudge over the filioque."

It has a very slow start and it's frustrating in many ways, but I did on balance actually enjoy this book, though I shan't be rushing to read the sequels. Followed by The Vesta Conspiracy.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:05pm on 12 September 2016

    'G' is the gravitational constant, you cannot pull single digit Gs of acceleration. 'g' is what you're looking for, and yes and I know it is nearly universal to use 'G' incorrectly like this but you claim to strive for accuracy and correctness in what you write.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:11pm on 12 September 2016

    Actually, "g" is a gramme; there is no standardised symbol for "gravities of acceleration". Since there's no risk of ambiguity here, I don't think it matters in the slightest.

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