Books

Short works

Books : reviews

Charles Sheffield.
Vectors.
1979

(read but not reviewed)

Contents

Killing Vector. 1978
Transition Team. 1978
Skystalk. 1979
How to Build a Beanstalk. 1979
The Long Chance. 1977
The Treasure of Odirex. 1978
What Song the Sirens Sang. 1977
Fixed Price War. 1978
Marconi, Mattin, Maxwell. 1977
The true story of the revolutionary Mattin link, and Henry Carver's place in its development, explaining why he had to leave Earth.
Power Failure. 1978
Dinsdale Dissents. 1977
The story of Waldo Burmeister's time on the Venus terraforming project, how he became a hero, and why President Dinsdale was not amused.
We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident. 1977
Bounded in a Nutshell. 1978
The Dalmation of Faust. 1978
Waldo Burmeister is given the task of conveying a precocious child and his genetically engineered pet to Earth. He fails.

Charles Sheffield.
Hidden Variables.
1981

(read but not reviewed)

Contents

The Man Who Stole the Moon. 1980
Hidden Variable. 1980
Summertide. 1981
The Deimos Plague. 1978
The story of Henry Carver's flight from Earth in the company of the planet saving pigs, Penelope and Pomander.
Forefather Figure. 1981
Moment of Inertia. 1980
The New Physics: The Speed of Lightness, Curved Space, and Other Heresies. 1980
From Natural Causes. 1978
Legacy. 1977
The Softest Hammer. 1981
A Certain Place in History. 1977
Henry Carver, sole survivor of the first Mattin link trial, is required to help with another, alien, link investigation.
All the Colors of the Vacuum. 1981
Perfectly Safe, Nothing to Worry About. 1977
Carver and Burmeister safeguard Pintonite, the most powerful explosive known.
The Marriage of True Minds. 1980

Charles Sheffield.
Dancing with Myself.
Baen. 1987

(read but not reviewed)

Contents

Unclear Winter. 1988
Classical Nightmares and Quantum Paradoxes. 1989
The Grand Tour. 1987
The Unlicked Bear-Whelp. 1990
Counting Up. 1988
Out of Copyright. 1989
Tunicate, Tunicate, Wilt Thou Be Mine. 1989
A Braver Thing. 1990
Nightmares of the Classical Mind. 1989
The Double Spiral Staircase. 1990
The Seventeen-Year Locusts. 1982
The Courts of Xanadu. 1988
C-change. 1992
Godspeed. 1990
Dancing with Myself. 1989
Something for Nothing: A Biography of the Universe. 1993

Charles Sheffield.
Brother to Dragons.
Baen. 1992

Charles Sheffield, ed.
How to Save the World.
Tor. 1995

Contents

James P. Hogan. Zap Thy Neighbor. 1995
Gary Summers has inadvertently infuriated some very important people -- and that's a very deadly thing to have done in the world he lives in.
Lawrence Watt-Evans. Choice. 1995
Geoffrey A. Landis. The Meetings of the Secret World Masters. 1995
James Kirkwood. The Invasion of Space. 1995
Larry Niven. The South Los Angeles Broadcasting System. 1995
Kathe Koja, Barry N. Malzberg. Buyer's Remorse. 1995
Arlan Andrews. Souls on Ice. 1995
Nick Pollotta. Raw Terra. 1995
Brenda W. Clough. The Product of Extremes. 1995
Jerry Oltion. My Soul to Keep. 1995
Doug Beason. Defense Conversion. 1995
Mary A. Turzillo. The Guatemala Cure. 1995
Jerry Pournelle, Charles Sheffield. Higher Education. 1995

Charles Sheffield.
Georgia on My Mind, and other places.
Tor. 1995

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 26 March 2008

A varied collection of short stories, ranging from barely a page in length, to novelettes, ranging from deadly serious to deliberately crude humour. "Humanity test" is simultaneously a tale about rights of "uplifted" animals and a novel solution to an old SFnal conundrum. Some of the stories have surprisingly unsympathetic narrators, and a couple finish just as the real story gets started.

Contents

Deep Safari. 1991
Fantastic Voyage brought up to date. A research scientist has injected herself with experimental medical telepresence nanobots, but something has gone wrong, and she is in a coma. The only person who can save her is her ex-lover, who now uses telepresence for running commercial 'Small Game Hunting'.
Fifteen-love on a Dead Man's Chest. 1993
Carver and Burmeister engage in a strange tennis match, and a hunt for an immortality drug.
The Feynman Saltation. 1992
An artist with a brain tumour finds himself painting earlier and earlier creatures.
The Bee's Kiss. 1994
Alien visitors are disturbed by something they learn about our biology: a criminal voyeur is sent to learn about them before they leave for good.
Millennium. 1994
Whose millennium is it, anyway?
Beyond the Golden Road. 1989
Science fiction as it might be written in 1250.
Health Care System. 1990
How far would you go to preserve your life, if you had the money?
Humanity Test. 1990
A hearing about the human rights of Shimmerhann chimpanzees is thrown into turmoil when a surprise witness is called to testify against them.
That Strain Again.... 1988
Ethical aliens are surprised and delighted to see humans visiting them.
Destroyer of Worlds. 1989
Stamps, strange attractors, and biospheres combine.
The Fifteenth Station of the Cross. 1993
A future despot wants a cure for his terminal illness, and changes history.
Trapalanda. 1987
A blind millionaire discovers something strange about the weather patterns in Argentina.
Obsolete Skill. 1987
When you are frozen for 200 years and revived, what contribution will you be able to make to the future society?
Georgia on My Mind. 1993
New Zealand, Babbage machines, and aliens combine.

Charles Sheffield.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow.
Bantam. 1997

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 4 May 1998

Drake Merlin's beloved wife Ana is dying of an incurable disease. So he has her body frozen, waiting for a time when science has advanced enough to cure her. He also freezes himself, to be sure they can be together again.

In this expansion of the short story "At the Eschaton", this simple premiss is taken to staggering conclusions, as Drake is reawakened at exponentially increasing time intervals for various good reasons, but with a cure for Ana still not possible, also for good reasons. Drake discovers he will have to wait until the Omega Point, the Big Crunch, the end of the Universe itself, before he can be reunited with Ana.

This is hard SF at its best -- there's even a 40 page appendix after the end of the novel explaining the various scientific concepts, including Tipler's idea of the eschaton. (Eschatology is the theological study of judgement day.) We get very little characterisation -- even Drake himself is a bit of a cypher. Personally, I prefer that for this kind of 'landscape novel' -- nothing to get in the way of the 'plot as hero'. Characterisation isn't the point here. We get to see humanity advancing throughout the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe; we get to see the entire history of the universe, with a convincing feeling of the sheer scale. James White made us feel the passage of millions of years with "Second Ending", H. G. Wells gave us billions of years with The Time Machine, but with a limited spatial scope. Here Sheffield is the master of the truly grand scale: billions of years, unimaginable distances, billions of galaxies, inconceivable changes in humanity, and then the End of the Universe.

Charles Sheffield.
Borderlands of Science.
Baen. 1999

Charles Sheffield.
Space Suits.
Fox Acre Press. 2001

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 31 December 2002

A collection of stories about Burmeister and Carver, Shysters-at-Law, and their bizarre adventures across the solar system. The stories are mildly amusing, sometimes gross (sewage recycling seems to feature quite heavily), and usually have some SFnal core to the plot.

Contents

The Deimos Plague. 1978
The story of Henry Carver's flight from Earth in the company of the planet saving pigs, Penelope and Pomander.
A Certain Place in History. 1977
Henry Carver, sole survivor of the first Mattin link trial, is required to help with another, alien, link investigation.
Perfectly Safe, Nothing to Worry About. 1977
Carver and Burmeister safeguard Pintonite, the most powerful explosive known.
Marconi, Mattin, Maxwell. 1977
The true story of the revolutionary Mattin link, and Henry Carver's place in its development, explaining why he had to leave Earth.
Dinsdale Dissents. 1977
The story of Waldo Burmeister's time on the Venus terraforming project, how he became a hero, and why President Dinsdale was not amused.
The Dalmation of Faust. 1978
Waldo Burmeister is given the task of conveying a precocious child and his genetically engineered pet to Earth. He fails.
Parasites Lost. 1981
Carver and Burmeister go to Earth to recover a lunar truffle hunting pig in a million.
With the Knight Male. 2000
Burmeister and Carver, Attorneys, act for Helga Svensen, better known as the Warrior Queen, in a jousting competition on Vesta. Their ability to read the fine print comes in handy.
The Decline of Hyperion. 1992
Norbert Knox has invented a food converter, but his bosses on Hyperion are trying to claim it as their own. Carver and Burmeister resolve the problem in their own highly unique manner.
Fifteen-love on a Dead Man's Chest. 1993
Carver and Burmeister engage in a strange tennis match, and a hunt for an immortality drug.
Space Opera. 1988
Carver and Burmeister get involved in a strange operatic production on the moon, including the Charge of the Light Brigade as performed by midgets on pigs [and the author gets to let fly with every Operatic pun he can find].

Charles Sheffield.
Aftermath.
Bantam. 1998

Charles Sheffield.
Starfire.
Bantam. 1999

Charles Sheffield.
The Spheres of Heaven.
Baen. 2001

Charles Sheffield.
Erasmus Magister.
1982

(read but not reviewed)

Contents

The Devil of Malkirk. 1982
The Treasure of Odirex. 1978
The Lambeth Immortal. 1979

Charles Sheffield.
The Amazing Dr. Darwin.
Baen. 2002

Contents

The Devil of Malkirk. 1982
The Treasure of Odirex. 1978
The Lambeth Immortal. 1979
The Heart of Ahura Mazda. 1988
The Phantom of Dunwell Cove. 1995
The Solborne Vampire. 1998

Charles Sheffield.
Dark as Day.
Tor. 2002

Charles Sheffield.
Summertide.
VGSF. 1990

(read but not reviewed)

Charles Sheffield.
Divergence.
VG SF. 1991

(read but not reviewed)

Charles Sheffield.
Transcendence.
Del Rey. 1992

(read but not reviewed)

Charles Sheffield.
Convergence.
Baen. 1997

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 27 April 1997

Although publication-date-wise, it's been a long gap between volume 3 and 4 of this series, it isn't so long for me: I didn't find Transcendence until 1995. Sheffield has changed publisher for this 4th, and probably last, episode, in the saga of the Builders.

All the usual characters rush, or are pushed, around the galaxy, from Artifact to Artifact, trying to understand what's happening. A new Artifact, the Labyrinth, has appeared, and the other Artifacts have started to change. Professor Darya Lang, infuriated by the theories of Quintus Bloom, rushes off to explore Labyrinth, accompanied by the Hymenopt Kallik and the Lo'tfian J'merlia. Hans Rebka and the embodied computer E. C. Tally explore Paradox. Bloom, along with Louis Nenda and the Cecropian Atvar H'sial, go back to the Zardalu planet in the Torvil Anfract. But the Artifact changes mean few end up where they expected. Can Darya solve the mystery of the Builders before everyone is killed by the contracting, disappearing Artifacts?

The weirdness of the Artifacts is well described: the sheer vastness and alienness of the constructs is vividly evoked. It's also good to have a load of alien species, none of which is in the least bit humanoid, and none of which is 'comic relief' or 'evil monster'. Even the Zardalu, past scourge of the Galaxy, aren't just cardboard villains. Well, no more cardboard than most of the other characters, anyway. Example: Atvar H'sial is a wonderfully-designed alien, who 'sees' by sonar and 'hears' and 'speaks' by smell. But she doesn't come across as alien: she and the human Louis Nenda are partners-in-crime, and have virtually identical motivations. Her only alienness is the running joke of her failing to understand 'human mating rituals'. Similarly, Kallik and J'merlia's only alienness is that they are slaves who want to be slaves; J'merlia is constantly described as 'mad', yet exhibits no mad behaviour (except possibly for his desire to continue as Atvar H'sial's slave). Even E. C. Tally, a computer in a human body, seems as human as (all) the others, except for an ability to think faster. They aren't even that alien to each other: nobody ever seems to misunderstand anyone else's motives for long. The only character I find distinguishable from the rest is Darya, and I find her intensely irritating. How anyone with such a fragile, childish ego has survived so long in academia, I have no idea.

I don't read hard SF for its characterisations, however. I agree that "criticising [a 'Landscape Novel'] for a lack of characters is like criticising the expressions on the faces in Constable's landscapes". I just wish that writers didn't feel the need to try to put in 'real' characters -- and end up drawing stick figures. The Artifacts are by far the most interesting characters in this series, and the attempts to understand them are the best parts of the plot. This is probably the ultimate 'Big Dumb Objects' series.

Charles Sheffield.
Resurgence.
Baen. 2002

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 8 June 2005

Sheffield returns to his Heritage Universe of incomprehensible Builder Artefacts, and ups the stakes yet again. It's two years since all the artefacts disappeared, and the various characters have been getting on with their lives. But then a ship arrives from the Sagittarius Arm, asking for help, and there appears to be a large dark cold hole growing there, destroying solar systems. So the gang are reassembled, and sent off to investigate. And they find a big danger: something that is more powerful than the mysterious but benign Builders, and inimical to life.

This has all the features of the previous Heritage tales: really Big, not-so-dumb Objects, a tremendous feeling of sheer scale, aliens with wonderfully alien physiologies, yet all too human mentalities and motivations. It is clearly the beginning of another trilogy or so, which will sadly now never be completed. However, despite not solving the overriding problem, it does have a satisfactory conclusion of its own.

Charles Sheffield, Jerry Pournelle.
Higher Education.
Tor. 1996

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 14 December 1997

16 year old Rick Luban finally plays a practical joke on the wrong person, and is expelled from his useless school. The fact that no-one is allowed to be a failure has reached its illogical conclusion: the whole curriculum is so watered down that no-one learns anything. But Rick gets a second chance, to join an asteroid mining company as a trainee. Now he gets some real education, in a hostile environment where a mistake can mean death.

This is a deliberate, and not that bad, attempt at a Heinleinesque juvenile, coupled with a savage attack on the US educational system, 'political correctness' and lack of discipline. The political message is laid on with a trowel.

The plot is typical of its kind: we see Rick and his classmates grow from semi-literate surly thugs to hard-working apprentices, learning both how to learn, and the value of learning, on the way. And, of course, there's the obligatory little plot twist to enliven the action at the end. We've seen this before, in Heinlein's Have Space Suit, Will Travel, and Space Cadet --- although Higher Education has a more up-to-date level of sex and violence, more unpleasant protagonists, and rather less polished info-dumping.

Charles Sheffield.
The Billion Dollar Boy.
Tor. 1997

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 25 February 2008

Teenager Shelby Cheever is fabulously wealthy, totally spoiled, and bored out of his mind. On a whim, he decides to go on a space cruise to the outer solar system. But even that is boring. So, when he is told that he will have to wait a whole day before he can go on his special trip to the outer system, he takes matters into his own hands, but ends up stranded 27 light years from home on a mining ship where no-one knows, or cares, who he is. It will be months until he can be sent home, and, in the meantime, he will have to earn his passage as one of the crew.

This is a retelling of Kipling's Captains Courageous, a coming of age tale where a spoiled youngster discovers the value of hard work and friendship, and comes good. However, it's all a bit shallow and under-told, presumably because it's being written explicitly as a juvenile (part of the Jupiter Novel series). The technology is lovingly described, but Shelby's transformation is all just a bit too easy.

Charles Sheffield.
Putting Up Roots.
Tor. 1997

Charles Sheffield.
The Cyborg from Earth.
Tor. 1998

Charles Sheffield.
One Man's Universe.
Tor. 1993

(read but not reviewed)

Contents

Killing Vector. 1978
Moment of Inertia. 1980
All the Colors of the Vacuum. 1981
The Manna Hunt. 1993
Shadow World. 1993
The Invariants of Nature. 1993
Rogueworld. 1993