Looking for a summer set of books, I decided I wanted to go lighter with my fare and leave the non-fiction tomes for my Christmas list. Loving a good space story, I purchased the paperbacks The Sky People and In the Courts of the Crimson Kings. It is a duology set in an alternate history where:
1. Some superintelligence has terraformed Mars and Venus to sustain life and planted life there
2. The US and USSR don't have a Cold War, focusing tremendous energy & resources on space exploration.
These books are written in the pulp sci fi style of yesteryear that described worlds of jungles, deserts, and aliens that were sexy, dangerous & mysterious. Planets were much sexier than they are now as lifeless lumps of rock. The books are quick reads, engaging in the imaginative alien worlds, and well laid out in that they have little 'encyclopedia' entries to start each chapter (kind of like Frankenstein's primary document portions). Overall, I enjoyed these books.
"The Sky People" is about the interactions between humans and 'aliens' on Venus. Venus is a wet, hot and vibrant planet. It is set about 25 years after the first Earth probes go to Venus (1988). It of course follows the good guys of the US at their base, and then how they try to help out the Commie Eastbloc base when a transport of theirs goes down. There's quick action, adventure, romance, and geopolitical intrigue. The bomb and conspiracy piece near the end does sound like something the Commies would have come up with. I appreciated the lack of whitewashing of Commie leadership motivations. I do not want to give much away, but a fast reader could crank this out in one sitting over a few hours. It is fun.
There are some problems. Lead characters are hyperintelligent & strong physical-psychological specimens, but they can't seem to anticipate any betrayals or problems. It gets annoying. There are some random detours from the main plot, that take up pages that could have been better devoted to the primary plot or discussing the world that was Venus. Lastly, the lead character is a Cajun, and he says "oui" to things instead of yes, yeah yup. It gets pretty fucking ANNOYING after the 80th time. I was waiting for another character to say "knock it off fucker, you use 3 french words in random conversation". He does speak French, but as a child of a native speaker who had grandparents talking French often even to this day, if I said "oui" to things not as a joke, I would have been shamed into stopping.
"In the Courts of the Crimson Kings" is set on Mars and in the year 2000, so the "Sky People" activities have an impact on this tale. Mars is a cold, desert planet with a dying atmosphere and a civilization that while planted on Mars after the first humans were around, developed much faster. I enjoyed this book much more than "Sky People". The lead was not as oblivious to signs. The alien civilization had a nice feature of more experience & patience, but was not portrayed as superior... just different. The positives of the author's abilities are on display, and he removed the negatives I cited above. No annoying lead character trait. No meandering detours for 15 pages. No stupid leads. The 'encyclopedia entries' were a bit longer in this one, so he must have received feedback that people wanted to know more about the 'universe' the author created (like Harry Potter or Star Wars geeks' undying thirst for more details). I recommend these two books for the $12 it will cost you.
It also got me thinking... the technology is there to cheaply produce a CGI tv series on HBO or even network, so why not take a stab at something like this or a series set in space? Not the lame "Grey's Anatomy" in space show on now. Something action-adventure based that is open ended, but sci fi to fill that Lost in Space/Star Trek/Quantum Leap/X-Files niche. Grafting this premise, space race finds life on our two neighboring planets, combining the exploration of new worlds and frontiers with the geopolitical drama of Earth, into a series on HBO-FX-Network would give you 12-18 episode seasons that you could string out for 100 epsiodes. The entire first season could be just contact, impact on society and training of the "explorers". The finale is they touch down on Venus/Mars. The 2nd season could be "explorers" set up on Venus/Mars. Following seasons could be set say 3-5-9 years later. This could allow for aging so the producers don't run into the problem Lost had where Kate aged 5 years when she was on the island for 45 days. This could be a winner. CGI that looks good is cheap now. You could draw in anyone trying to become an action movie name. I see viewers.