Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review - The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson

The Frozen Sky
Jeff Carlson
Print Length: 348 pages
eBook: 472 pages (portrait mode)
Publisher: JVE
Publication Date: October 10, 2012
eBook ISBN: 9781936460137
Orbital Diagrams and Maps: Jeff Sierzenga
Interior Illustrations: Karel Zeman
Cover Art: Jacob Charles Dietz


     Well before the printed word critics and reviewers alike debated over what made a good story and, conversely, what made a story good. Fortunately, those answers still remain a matter of individual opinion1. Better still, I like to express my opinion about the books I’ve read. (I have a keyboard and I’m not afraid to use it.) One of my own long-standing gauges for identifying a remarkable book2 hinges on a simple principle. If the narrative personally motivates me to sit down and write then I know that it wholly entertained, profoundly inspired, and/or emotionally stirred me in some way. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a novelist. That I WANTED to pick up pen and paper and write immediately after finishing Jeff Carlson’s The Frozen Sky is the important factor. As a reader the spark of inspiration, that need to create, is a tell-tale sign that a connection has been made, that I’ve discovered a truly provocative story of worth and value3. Simply put, The Frozen Sky is very much the story I’d want to write myself (if I lived in an alternate universe where I created best-selling Science Fiction.)

     Based on the award-winning4 novelette of the same name The Frozen Sky is a new, full-length Science Fiction thriller that in many ways compares to the classic ‘First Contact’ novels Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman. The idea that humans will encounter problems communicating with aliens is not at all a new concept but Mr. Carlson may have identified a few of the potential stumbling blocks we could face when trying to make ourselves understood. The near-impossible seeming task of “talking” to another race will certainly be a challenging experience but, if we learn from the “what if’s” posed by Mr. Carlson and his fellow Science Fiction writers it need not be a traumatic one. Despite the ‘hard’ Science Fiction label The Frozen Sky is not at all difficult to read. In fact, I finished it rather quickly and was thoroughly entertained by the creative premise, the right amount of page-turning action, the character development, and the plausible argument for keeping our heads when we start to physically explore our neighboring solar system.

     A planetary rover, sent to discover natural resources for a dying, war-ravaged Earth, encounters signs of life on Europa, the ice-rich moon of Jupiter. A robotic probe has discovered a millennia-old tunnel engraved with hieroglyphic symbols. And, where there’s language there’s civilization. Except, in this case the alien race encountered by an elite team of scientists is older than mankind and, because of the harsh environment, has regressed to an unusually barbaric state. With the help of a human-A.I.-hybrid hastily uploaded to a mech, one scientist fights time, newly-landed competitors from Earth’s remaining superpowers, and the aliens themselves to prove that the new race is sentient. But the military applications, mineral mining, and water-rich environment of Europa are too lucrative and tempting to an impatient Earth. Time is running out and there are factions on Europa that would rather eliminate the newly-encountered race than talk to it.

     In my opinion, The Frozen Sky coupled with his Plague series makes Jeff Carlson a logical heir of the Golden Age writers such as Isaac Asimov, Robert H. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke. And we definitely need writers like Carlson to fill the void left by their passing. Not only does Carlson provide impactful science fiction but he also knows how to convey the nuances of the human condition in his storytelling. The Frozen Sky is an exceptional piece of Science Fiction, and is evocative, entertaining, and on par with the hard Science-Fiction5 works of the writers mentioned above. It adds to Carlson’s existing body of work and I feel strongly that one day it will be regarded as one of the classic works of Science Fiction. Jeff Carlson creates fascinating non-terrestrial landscapes, technological gadgets, and alien creatures like a painter designing his masterpiece or a composer creating his magnum opus. Epic in scope The Frozen Sky is a fast-paced First Contact story like none I’ve ever read before and deserves a wide audience and an avid following.

     Recommended for fans of alien encounters/first contact, hard Science Fiction, military fiction, action adventure, electronic warfare, Artificial Intelligence, planetary rovers, hacking, space travel, terra-forming/exploitation, environmental suits, computer simulations, humanism, alien life forms, the sentience argument, rogue A.I. probes, memory transference, and space exploration.

     File with: Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Frederick Pohl, Jack McDevitt, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, Iain M. Banks, China Meiville, and Arthur C. Clarke.

     Note: The ePub version of the book contains a very entertaining story from Jeff Carlson’s short story collection Long Eyes and Other Stories entitled “Pressure.”

4 ½ out 5 stars

The Alternative One
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Read the novelette of The Frozen Sky

Review of The Frozen Sky

The Frozen Sky Amazon Page

Jeff Carlson Wiki Page

Jeff Carlson Official Author Page


Illustration Karel Zeman
Copyright 2009
Pevnost Magazine

1 Many a beloved classic have garnered bad reviews over the years. Some still do.  Click here for a short list.

2 A virtual index of my physical library can be found here: The Alternative

3 I equate this to when, as little boys, my brothers and I would get energized after watching a sporting event on TV and then would immediately run out to play that sport. That excitement, that spark, is a true indicator that I’ve been immersed in a good piece of fiction and was “inspired to play.”

4 First-place winner in the international Writers of the Future contest.

5 A word about “hard” Science Fiction by Mike Brotherton (and recommended reading) can be found here: Ten classic hard SF novels featuring Physics and Astronomy

     Disclaimer: The eBook version of The Frozen Sky was obtained gratis as part of the Early Reviewers Program at The Alternative One Blog does not accept compensation, other than reading material, for its reviews.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Concert Review – Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson Plays Thick As A Brick 1 & 2

(November 1st, 2012 – Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee, WI.)


Watching the Minstrel from the Gallery

     From our perch high up in the Gallery at the Pabst Theatre last night we witnessed a spectacle of musical diversion not seen in the Midwest in a very long time. Ian Anderson and “chums” performed the classic prog-rock concept album Thick As A Brick 1 AND its new companion album Thick As A Brick 2 back-to-back, live, on-stage. It was an event of extraordinary performance art, head banging rock, musical theatre, visual arts and one great, kick-ass piece of mind-boggling musical entertainment. Ian Anderson, long-time front-man for Jethro Tull, is unarguably one of the most charismatic performers in the industry and the world’s most gifted flautist. And he proved it last night.

     Replete with a new touring band and a new backup singer who sounds astonishingly like a young Ian Anderson the band played through Thick As A Brick 1 & 2  in an energetic, theatrical performance. New and well-known melodies and themes were resurrected and rolled up into a suite of profound sound and expanded into a two-and-a-half-hour adrenaline-filled  show. Ian Anderson’s robust vocals, shared with Ryan O’Donnell, were solid and his flute and acoustic guitar work flawless. Lead guitarist, Florian Ophale, a gifted musician, definitely did his homework as both his lead and rhythm works were outstanding. Keyboardist, John O’Hara, is a talented and multi-layered instrumentalist that utilized the piano, organs, and an accordion throughout the performance. Drummer, Scott Hammond, was fluent, fluid, and provided a jarring, romping five minute drum solo that rocked the house.

     All in all, this was one of the very best throw-back rock concerts I’ve attended in recent years (beating out Eric Clapton, Santana, and yes, even Pearl Jam) and in my opinion, fulfilled every Tull fan's most fervent dream… stripped-down folksy acoustic guitar, flute musings, rollicking electric guitars and synthesizers bracketed by tight rhythm-section accompaniment, inspired musicianship, entertaining visual performance art (at one point Ryan O’Donnell sat on stage pretending to read a copy of PROG magazine), and the liquid but brawny vocals and humorous storytelling of Ian Anderson. Not surprisingly, this performance, as well as their entire body of music over the past forty years, incorporated elements of classical music, theater, English folk music, jazz, British humor, hard rock, erudite storytelling, and art rock into their sound. Exactly what every fan there came to see.

Performance 5 out of 5 stars
Musicality 6 out of 5 stars
Visual arts and storytelling 5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin


Additional Reading:

Official Jethro Tull Website

Jethro Tull Wiki Page

Ian Anderson Wiki Page

Thick As A Brick 1 Wiki Page

Thick As A Brick 2 YouTube Trailer