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Ziring Book Pages - 3rd Quarter '96 Reviews

These are the reviews from the summer of 1996. For newer reviews, go back to the main book page.

Brightness Reef by David Brin - 1995, Bantam Books (ISBN 0-553-10034-3)
This science fiction novel is the first of a new trilogy from the well-respected author David Brin. It is set in the universe established by Sundiver and Startide Rising, but in a new setting and with new and fascinating characters. The plot is complex, and the pace is leisurely (for the most part); the reader has plenty of time to enjoy the development of the story and get to know the characters. Beware - like other leading books of trilogies, Brightness Reef leaves many unresolved points, leaving the reader anxious to learn the fates of the characters and their world. If the rest of the trilogy is as good as the first book, though, it will be worth the wait.
Conclusion: Highly Recommended, a must for Brin fans
Legacy by Greg Bear - 1995, Tor Books (ISBN 0-312-85516-8)
Greg Bear grabbed the attention of the Sci-Fi community with his book Eon. This new novel is set in the same universe (sort of), and deals with an early period in the life of one of Eon's most enigmatic characters. The author paints a vivid and engaging portrait of Lamarkia, a world which seems poised on the brink of several different disasters. The reader follows the hero through a variety of adventures, and through a deep process of self-discovery. There are also some moral messages to be drawn from the events and the characters' reactions to them. Legacy is a very good book, but in the shadow of a towering novel like Eon, it really serves as not much more than a lengthy prelude.
Conclusion: Read Eon first, then read Legacy.
Alice In Quantumland by Robert Gilmore - 1995, Springer-Verlag (ISBN 0-387-91495-1)
This short book is subtitled "An Allegory of Quantum Physics." It recounts the adventures of a rather modernized Alice as she wanders through various microscopic realms, and meets idiosyncratic characters. The book is filled with charming line drawings vaguely remeniscent of those that have graced numerous editions of Lewis Carroll's classic. The physics is presented in a light-hearted and simplified way, but the book is never condescending. In areas where a detailed or technical explanation can be helpful, one is given in a separate box. The mathematics underlying the physics is not presented in any fashion, which is the only sane choice for the average reader when one considers the kind of mathematics needed. Dr. Gilmore, a physicist from Bristol, UK, manages to cover a lot of ground in only 180 pages. Unfortunately, while the book is interesting and amusing, it does not quite serve to introduce an uninformed reader to the oddities and importance of quantum physics.
Conclusion: Recommended, best for readers already familiar with quantum physical concepts
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson - 1995, Bantam Books (ISBN 0-553-57331-4)
This science fiction novel relates the complicated tale of Nell, a child growing up in an age of explosive potential. The narrative is centered on Nell, but also delves deep into the characters of several persons who help make her who she becomes. The "Diamond Age" is a time in the near future when nanotechnology has changed how human business and social life are conducted, and is poised to change things much further. The subtitle of the book, "or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" refers to a marvelous book that Nell is given. The story of the real Nell growing up in urban environment around the China Sea, and the storybook Nell growing up in the Primer, are wonderfully intertwined. The other characters that populate the book are colorful and engaging, if sometimes a little extreme, and they flesh out the moral themes of the book quite well. Neal Stephenson's previous book, Snow Crash, painted an gritty and thought-provoking portrait of the near future. The Diamond Age reaches a little further off in time, and in a different direction, but shares the fine detail and depth that made its predecessor so enjoyable.
Conclusion: Highly recommended
Reptiles and Amphibians Dr. H. Cogger & Dr. R. Zweifel, editors - 1992, Smithmark Publishers (ISBN 0-8317-2786-1)
This beautiful but expensive book defies easy categorization. In format and appearance, it is a coffee-table book about cold-blooded critters, full of eye-catching photographs and diagrams. Its content, however, is detailed and authoritative enough to make it interesting and rewarding for any amateur herpetologist. After the introductory material, the book is divided ridgedly into sections based on the different taxonomic groups of class REPTILIA and AMPHIBIA. Each section is written by a different university professor or museum director. The only disappointment, if it is one, is that the photographs seem to have been selected more for their drama and composition than for the instructive value. The quality of the printing and typography is uniformly good, better than stereotypical coffee-table fare. Also noteworthy is the book's comprehensive index, a boon for looking up a particular reptile or amphibian when all you know is its common name and not its scientific name.
Conclusion: Pricey, but well worth it for animal enthusiasts
RING Stephen Baxter - 1994, Harper Collins (ISBN 0-06-105694-4)
Baxter has earned a solid reputation as an author of "hard" science fiction, the kind that utilizes wild but legitimate scientific ideas as the basis for storyline. RING fits this genre very well. The story includes universe-spanning themes and conflict, dealt with by a small cast of detailed characters. It is these characters, more than the action or plot, that hold back what could have been a great SF novel. RING is set in a self-consistent future history that Baxter has used in several of his published works: novels Timelike Infinity, Flux, and (somewhat) Raft, as well as short stories. This book is meant to tie all those other works together, and it does so pretty well, but this story and its characters doesn't have the same punch as some of its precessors.
Conclusion: Not recommended.
(Buy the author's 1993 book FLUX instead, ISBN 0-06-100837-0)
The Java Programming Language Ken Arnold and James Gosling - 1996, Addison Wesley (ISBN 0-201-63455-4)
This is the definitive book on the Java language itself, written by two very well-known computer programming authors, one of whom was a chief architect of the language. The book is extremely well organized, and provides in-depth information about Java's syntax and semantics. It is set up to be used both as an authoritative description and as a learning aid -- each section contains programming exercises for students. This book is not designed to assist the impatient web author eager to write spiffy applets for their web pages. It offers no coverage of the runtime APIs used for applets and graphics. The intended audience of this book is serious programmers who need to know how the language really works, and why.
Conclusion: Recommended, for serious students of programming
The Ringworld Throne Larry Niven - 1996, Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-345-35861-9)
Larry Niven is a well-known name in science fiction, and this new novel really shows his consummate writing style and knack for ideas. It is the third novel set on the Ringworld, a ring-shaped artifact so large it completely encircles its sun. The first novel, simply named Ringworld (1970), is considered one of the best (if not the best) hard science fiction novel ever written. The second book, Ringworld Engineers (1980), was also extremely good. Ringworld Throne finds the main character from the first two books, Louis Wu, still on the ringworld and caught up in an incipient power struggle. There is also a fascinating sub-plot that evolves around a former associate of Louis's that provides some of the excellent exploration of the relationships between the different subspecies that inhabit the ringworld's huge expanses. The action and ideas accelerate as the book continues, until, near the end, the paragraphs get dense enough to require several reading to glean all their implications.
In general, this is a fine book and well worth reading. Is it another mind-boggling classic like the original Ringworld? Sadly, no, but the story and characters are so involving that you won't really mind. Note, however, that the story pretty much assumes you've read at least one of its two predecessors.
Conclusions: Recommended, a must for science fiction fans.

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This page written by Neal Ziring, last modified 9/30/96.