Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Zero Versus The Splinters

JS Collyer, Zero (Nottingham, 2014).

The Zero is docked on the space colony, Lunar 1. Crew members spy on a warehouse and conclude:

"'The warehouse is a Splinter stronghold...'" (p. 132)


three simultaneous night patrols armed with Haven-made AG19s;

cameras and motion-sensors around entrances and exits;

foot traffic, none of it civilian, between the warehouse and the apartment block next door;

the top apartments seem to be civilian residences but probably to protect the warehouse from attack.

Further, the names and credit codes used to secure the warehouse and apartments show that the same group also controls at least a dozen other buildings and depots. The warehouse is big enough to contain a large stockpile of weapons.

The Zero's move: "' an isolated blast that'll take out the whole building...'" (p. 134)

Not alert the authorities to raid the warehouse and arrest its owners?

This reminds me of The Man From UNCLE. UNCLE learns that an overtly legitimate business is really a THRUSH stronghold. Therefore, UNCLE agents covertly sabotage the stronghold without informing or involving the local police. A vast secret war is waged in the background. We will learn who the Splinters are and the significance of "Haven" when we need to.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

ZERO: Characterization

I forgot to mention here that the Zero in flight is not in free fall. The crew sit, stand, walk, sit down etc as if they were on Earth. Again, this implies an artificial gravity field inside the ship.

Zero is character-driven which I have not really mentioned yet, preferring instead to focus on the social and scientific backgrounds. The Zero captain and commander, Hugo and Webb, continue to disagree and argue even when engaged in a clandestine operation. We appreciate this conflict while understanding that external details like the purpose of the operation will fall into place in due course.

Webb was born and brought up in the entirely artificial environment of a space colony. When he murmurs, "'Christ,'" (p. 56), we expect trouble. They are dodging sensors and security guards. Instead, he explains:

"'It gets me every time...Not just trees. Everything. The green. The life. Fuck, the smell of it. Of Earth. Do you mean to say you were actually born here?'" (ibid.)

Everything that we take for granted "gets" a cold blooded killer from outer space: well observed characterization.

When another character later remarks:

"'What, miss a showdown between Kaleb Hugo and Ezekiel Webb? You couldn't get tickets to that show for all the credit in Sunside.'" (p. 109)

- this means something to us because we know by now that Hugo and Webb mean something to a lot of people in the Orbit civilization. They have become series characters early in their first novel.

ZERO: Miscellaneous

(i) The moral issue to which I alluded is more serious than I suggested. Webb, the Zero commander says:

"'You get used to it...Shooting people in the back. It gets easier.'" (p. 62)

Oh no, it shouldn't get easier. Even Ian Fleming's notoriously "licensed to kill" character found cold blooded killing increasingly difficult - and nearly got himself killed as a result.

(ii) Is space dark or full of light? Poul Anderson describes many brightly colored stars and galaxies and used phrases like "a wilderness of stars." Collyer emphasizes the darkness between the stars:

"...there was nothing but the candle-flames of stars amongst the vastness of space." (p. 39)

"Hugo stood for a moment longer, gazing out into the darkness beyond the viewscreen..." (p. 47)

(iii) Clearly the spaceships are not rockets. They do not blast off:

"The Zero hummed and he felt her rock underneath him as she lifted off the ground." (p. 39)

The crew "...used thrusters and dampers to steer the ship..." (p. 25)

Since artificial gravity has been used to colonize the Moon (see here), I deduce that ships lift and move through control of gravity fields. The sub-lieutenant looks through "...fuel inventories and tech checks..." (p. 46) Does manipulation of gravity involve the consumption of fuel? Or is fuel used for something else?

(iv) A vast interconnected computer network used to be an sf idea. Now we live with it and it is still in our sf. The Orbit civilization has a "...solarnet..." (p. 100), although presumably this has a light speed limit?

Monday, 20 June 2016

ZERO: A Moral Issue

JS Collyer, Zero (Nottingham, 2014).

The deal with Zero is: enjoy covert action and character interaction (we do) while absorbing the complicated background information as it is gradually revealed to us. This has to be a spoiler alert. If I am going to unravel this interesting futuristic scenario while still reading the book for the first time, then I will discuss details that others would prefer not to know until they have read the book to its conclusion. And I might get some of the details wrong but will then correct them later.

As far as I can discern so far:

there has been a "Whole World War" (p. 47) (thus, we might say, not a WWIII but a WWW);

there is an interplanetary civilization called the Orbit;

the Orbit defense/security/enforcement agency is called the Service;

the Service has Headquarters in Sydney and a Command Centre in space (this implies that the center of civilization moved to the Southern Hemisphere and/or off Earth after the WWW);

the Zero, ostensibly a "...a pirate ship..." (p. 47), is really a covert Service ship (does piracy work in space?);

Colonel Luscombe of the Service assigns the Zero to investigate "...Albion Integrated's revenue stream..." (p. 43) (will AI turn out to be run by an AI?);

the only way to access the relevant data is physically to burgle the AI command centre on Earth;

while doing this, the Zero commander casually kills an AI security guard.

Stop! Morality alert! Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys here? Is this "Service" really a Service or an instrument of oppression? That is all that I have got so far. Well, there has been a defeated Lunar Revolution as well but right now I am mainly concerned about the moral issue of our heroes (?) casually killing someone especially since they could presumably just have rendered the guy unconscious.

This has become my way of engaging with a text. It takes a while. But I get a lot more out of it than if I just read the text straight through.

Sunday, 19 June 2016


JS Collyer, Zero (Nottingham, 2014).

I have developed the (bad?) habit of posting about a book while still reading it for the first time. Not only is this easy and enjoyable but it also means that, instead of reading an entire text, then writing a single review of it, I stay with the text for several posts, focus on details that might otherwise have been missed and ask questions that might be answered by further reading.

In Zero, what is the spaceships' means of propulsion? So far, the text has focused on space combat, criminal activity and undercover work, not (as yet) on explaining the hardware - but there is plenty of time for that.

Zero is not set tomorrow or the day after but further in the future. There has been time for:

artificial gravity;
cities with "spacescrapers" on the Moon;
a Lunar Revolution.

The tech includes "'...gravgen units.'" (pp. 30-31) Gravity generation? Are the ships propelled by artificially generated gravity fields? Further reading will tell.

Friday, 17 June 2016

ZERO: First Impressions

Star Trek, Blake's Seven and other popular sf series have familiarized us with combat spaceships and their crews. JS Collyer's Zero, Volume I of a series, clearly belongs to this sub-genre. Collyer's space-faring civilization seems to be interplanetary, not as yet interstellar. There is an armed force called simply "the Service," as in James Blish's "Beep"/The Quincunx Of Time.

An author of this kind of futuristic sf needs to describe a future society as if from experience. Thus, Poul Anderson gives us the impression that he is a veteran of faster than light interstellar combat. Robert Heinlein opened a novel with the line:

"If a man walks in dressed like a hick and acting as if he owned the place, he's a spaceman."
-Robert Heinlein, Double Star (New York, 1957), p. 5.

Collyer matches Anderson and Heinlein when, describing two members of the Zero crew, she writes:

"They walked with the wide gait of men used to space decks..."
-JS Collyer, Zero (Nottingham, 2014), p. 16.

Of course they did. We know how spacemen walk, don't we? At least for a moment we feel that we do. I have read only a few pages but must break off to go and watch Superman IV. Obviously, there will be more on Zero.