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Winter Song Mass Market Paperback – August 31, 2010
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THE PLANET HAD FALLEN OFF THE MAP.
Rock-hard sci-fi adventure. No-one here gets out alive.
When his spaceship crashes on an unknown and forgotten planet, scientist Karl Allman discovers himself hunted by an ancient race. The descendants of earlier colonists have reverted to a savage tribal culture of sacrifice, pillage and violence. When Karl falls in love with an outcast girl, he has only one goal: escape. But escape is a distant dream on this nightmare planet.
File Under: Science Fiction [ Starship Crash | Abandoned Colony | Alien Genocide | Comet Death ]
E-book ISBN: 978-0-85766-026-8
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Winter Song is a good book, there is nothing really spectacular or new in it, if you're a sci-fi fan you've come across all these ideas before but it is very entertaining and enjoyable anyway. It is a cracking good old fashioned adventure that would be ideal reading for a plane trip or daily bus commute.
I enjoyed this book a lot and would happily read anything else Colin Harvey has written and will continue to follow the latest releases from Angry Robot Books.
This book has a reasonably good beginning. I would have given it three stars if it hadn't deteriorated so badly toward the end. However, the ending was so bad that I dithered over a one star rating. I eventually opted for two stars since I did find the first two thirds of the book entertaining.
There are a wealth of SF ideas in the book. They include Artificial Intelligence (with the ability to download themselves into humans w/o consent), Nano technology, terra-forming, human genome engineering, lost colonies, etc. With few exceptions (more on this below), the author does not attempt to give even a pseudo explanation for how any of these might work. Worse, the author does not explore how any of these might affect human attitudes or society. What is left is a flawed adventure story.
This book has more than it's share of typos, awkward sentences and bad punctuation. I frequently had to stop and puzzle out the meaning. A typical example:
"A construct, the same as you." You made yourself grow bigger, ...
The first "you" referred to a second construct while the second "you" referred to one of the protagonists (also a construct). The frequent use of "you" as a substitute for a proper name (the AI protagonist had one) made for many confusing transitions.
I'm about to give away some plot lines, so if you intend to read the book, you may want to skip the remainder of this review.
The author only goes into any scientific detail on a few occasions and with very poor results every time:
1. Basic mechanics. The main protagonist decides it is necessary to move a comet and the AI gives the following rational for being able to do it: i) "Ice weights slightly less and one kilogram per cubic metre at standard gravity" ... wrong, it weights a little less than 1,000 kilograms. Common sense should tell anyone that a cubic meter of ice weights a lot more than one kilogram. ii) "So a cubic kilometer masses one megatonne" ... still wrong, it would mass 1,000 megatonnes. iii) "This comet's diameter at twelve point five eight kilometres means that it masses almost two thousand megatonnes". Another error. If the comet were a cube, then the author's apparent calculation of a ~2,000 cubic kilometer volume would be about right. However, the comet is a sphere and it's volume is a little over 1,000 cubic kilometers. So, the author comes up with a mass of two thousand megatonnes when he should have come up with a mass of one million megatonnes -- only off by a factor of 500! iv) The ship that will be used to push the asteroid can manage an acceleration of 4 gravities and has a mass of a little under a megatonne. The author reasons this would allow the ship to give the asteroid an acceleration of 1/50 of a gravity. Another error. Using the author's numbers, the acceleration of the asteroid would be limited to about 1/500 of a gravity. Using the correct numbers, the maximum acceleration would be 1/250,000 of a gravity. An total error of a factor of 50,000!!
The irony is that the author has one of the characters commenting that "It'll be like an ant pushing an elephant". I had a good laugh when I realized the character was startlingly close to being correct!
If the comet can't be moved in a timely matter, the whole story collapses.
The initial plan for surviving the return to the planet calls for riding a piece of the comet down. Are you kidding me????? This has the same odds for survival as being at ground zero for a nuclear blast. Maybe the author saw Fail Safe and thought Slim Pickens survived his ride down on the atomic bomb.
Later, the comet has been successfully directed toward a south pole strike and the ship is very near a crash landing at the equator. They see the flash of the comet strike and two seconds later they feel the shock wave! The author apparently isn't aware that a shock wave travels at the speed of sound. We never learn exactly how big the world is, so we don't know the distance from the south pole to the equator. However, it has a gravity of about 2/3 standard, so it's going to have a diameter between those of the moon and the earth. A travel time of 15,000 seconds is probably in the ball park.
2. Terra-forming: Worst of all was the entire rational behind moving the comet. Our protagonist has sent out distress calls which he believes will probably be answered. He is convinced that if he does nothing, the planet will continue a cooling cycle and everyone will be dead in 20-30 years. If he does crash the comet into the planet he believes the impact will kill millions, send the already cooling planet into a "nuclear winter" (the population is ill equipped to survive this), will almost certainly exterminate one of the two human races on the planet and he isn't sure the act will result in the planet eventually warming up. So, with zero hesitation or self doubt, he decides to lie to his companions about the expected affects and get busy moving the comet.
The book ends on a very strange note. The protagonists are headed for a crash "landing" in an ocean. Thrusters giving them a 1/10 gravity acceleration have managed to "flatten out" their trajectory. We have no reason to believe the ship has any ability to glide. The main protagonists are talking about their future together and the book ... ends. Given the authors lack of understanding about how things work, I'm not sure whether he intended this to be a cliff hanger (unfair), he thought he had set the table for a survivable landing (really bad science and/or no common sense -- see plan 'A', riding the comet down) or he indeed knew that he had consigned them to death (in which case not a single plot line was resolved). In any case, a very lame ending.
Following Karl Allman as he crash lands on a forgotten and primitive colony world where the terraforming looks like it's going backwards, Winter Song is a novel that has more than a few surprises up its sleeve. I was expecting to walk into this with a more typical human vs alien world theme where there were many strange and wonderful creatures. What I got was a story focused on human characters that developed and grew with each situation they face.
Isheimur is a cold planet whose colony was set up with Icelandic heritage, and with strong willed characters in the leadership roles within the village, Karl finds himself in a difficult and frustrating situation. Ragnar, the village leader, believes in a harsh rule. He is not an unfair person, but with stores low and an extra pair of hands needed, he forces Karl to stay and help the village. Bera, a young woman in the village, is unpopular due to an unwed pregnancy. What is worse is the fact that she won't reveal the father to Ragnar. For this she is treated with little courtesy and often outright scorn. So when Karl arrives, half starved and in need of help, Bera is tasked with his treatment, leading to a friendship and quest to find the mysterious Winter Song, a relic of a long forgotten seed ship.
Winter Song is very much a look at what a culture will revert to if needed. It gives a very in depth look at the relationships between the main characters, the control a leader such as Ragnar has over his village and how a new and completely different personality fits into an established way of life. I very much enjoyed the character building in Winter Song and though that Colin Harvey did a great job at making the characters relatable and interesting, allowing the story to be carried on their shoulders quite easily and showing that communication can be very important.
Winter Song has some surprising and compelling twists, turns and events. From the start where we see a fully fledged sci-fi starship crash through to the unforgiving environment of Isheimur, Colin Harvey gives the reader a good, solid story. His characters are enjoyable to read, the setting is interesting in its own right and raises many questions, and the story is well developed and told in such a way that you want to read on, the pages turning all too easily. Whether or not we will return to this universe is another question - the ending certainly leaves the option available, although I happy it finished as it did.
If you enjoy a character driven, intelligent and thoughtful novel then Winter Song is one you should be picking up. Highly recommended.