Saturday, May 31, 2014

Columbus : Flight - J.C. Rainier

    2012; 270 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Book #1 of the Project Columbus series.  Genre : Science Fiction; “Hard” Sci-Fi.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    It’s the near future (2014; the book was published in 2012), and the Columbus Project embarks on a voyage reminiscent of its namesake.  Three ships set sail, bound for a brave new world.

    Their distance will be a bit farther, though – approximately 45 light years.  And there’s no guarantee that when they reach their destination – a planet dubbed Demeter – that it will in fact be inhabitable.

    Of course, there’s always a possibility that things could go amiss during the flight itself.  But what are the odds of that?

What’s To Like...
    The book reminded me of old “hard Sci-Fi” James P. Hogan novels, and that's a plus.  The emphasis is more on the scientific and technological plausibility than on rock-em/sock-em action.  Indeed, other than the very beginning and very end of Columbus: Flight, there’s not a lot of action.  Still, it kept me turning the pages.

    J.C. Rainier finds an innovative solution to the “can’t go faster than the speed of light” dilemma – suspended animation, aka "stasis" here.  But tweaks to the flight plan are needed every so often, so select crew members are awakened once every five years, for a week at a time.  They make the needed adjustments, check the vital signs of the 6,000 or so colonists, then go back to sleep.  There is very little aging while one is in stasis.

    Rainier has a lot of fun detailing life in zero-gravity.  Things like crying, sneezing, barfing, and exercising on gym machines are noticeably different.  He explores psychological issues as well, including dreaming while in stasis and something he calls Hibernation Psychosis.

   As the title implies, Columbus: Flight basically covers the 45 years it takes to get to the target planet.  It ends at an appropriate place – the arrival at Demeter – but there really isn’t any conclusion to any of the storylines.  I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger ending, but it’s obvious the author wants to hook you into reading the whole series.  I’m not keen on this, but hey, S.M. Stirling and Harry Turtledove do it all the time, so I can’t call it amateurish.

    There’s a small amount of cussing, but nothing you wouldn’t expect to hear in a military setting.  There’s a poopload of characters to follow, but each chapter is told from a single person’s POV, and the ship they’re on is listed as well.  You quickly remember who’s hanging out with who, and on which ship.

    “What about the cargo pods?”
    Hunter smiled broadly.  “You caught that, didn’t you.  They detach too, but they come down differently.  Josephson?”
    She cleared her throat and looked around.  “Aerodynamic freefall and parachutes.  And if all else fails, litho braking.”
    “I’m sorry, lithawhat?” asked Cal.
    “It means they smash into the ground and we pray they don’t crater,” replied Hunter.  (loc. 2051)

    The doppelganger ignored him.  “You were learning a skill.  No, make that two skills.  But hey, you’ve thrown that away too just to go hide in a hole.”
    “That wasn’t a skill.  Doctor Taylor was just using me to make her job easier.  Any monkey could learn to do that.  As for the book, I just got bored.”
    “Bull,” it spat as it crossed back into Cal’s line of vision.  “Nobody has ever read a chemistry book because they were bored.”  (loc. 3397)

Kindle Details...
    Columbus: Flight sells for $0.99 at Amazon, which is an inexpensive way to see if the series is for you.  The rest of the books in the series (there are four others) sell for $2.99 apiece. 

”Heroes get themselves killed; didn’t anyone ever tell you that?”  (loc. 115)
    There are some intriguing issues in Columbus: Flight, among which are a captain “freezing” at a critical time, unexplained computer program glitches, Cal being woke up early, and hibernation casualties.  Not only aren’t they resolved, but the reader isn’t even given a clue as to what’s causing them.  Presumably, this is addressed in the sequels.

   I had a big continuity problem with the demented Colonel Fox.  Where did she pass the 45 years?  In stasis?  If so, security is kinda lax.  Hiding in the ship?  If so, wouldn’t some effort be made to track her down?  And she’d be quite the doddering geezer by the time the ship arrives at Demeter.  Was I just sleep-reading these parts, or did the beta-readers do a sh*tty job?  And we won’t even discuss the underlying premise for the flight – China invading the USA.  Visions of Red Dawn were dancing in my head.

    There is a Peter F. Hamilton feel to this book, and I like that.  The lack of action will be off-putting to some, but if you think back the movie 2001 : A Space Odyssey, you’ll find that thrills and spills were sparse there as well.  They are not “musts” for a good Sci-Fi story.  The main thing to do when reading Columbus: Flight is to decide whether you want to commit to another four books in a series.

    7 Stars.  Subtract 1 star if space travel without wormholes and warp drives doesn’t float your starship.

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