I picked this up yesterday evening for a quick spot of reading before bed. Next thing I knew, it was 3:30am and I'd finished the book. Excellent chara...moreI picked this up yesterday evening for a quick spot of reading before bed. Next thing I knew, it was 3:30am and I'd finished the book. Excellent characters, compelling story and gripping action. The author does a fantastic job realizing space fleet tactics and logistics without making them at all boring. And the main character, John Geary, is a great depiction of a leader stuck with fighting his own legend. Yes, he really was that good back in the day, but it turns out a lot of details get lost when translating across 100 years of absence. I can't wait to pick up the next in the series.(less)
These books are distinctly Sci-Fi rather than Urban Fantasy, for all they include elves, demons, ghosts, etc. This is one case where the cover art enh...moreThese books are distinctly Sci-Fi rather than Urban Fantasy, for all they include elves, demons, ghosts, etc. This is one case where the cover art enhances the contents by cueing you into the potential genre-misdirect—i.e. the cover screams Sci-Fi and that's all to the good.
This book probably deserved 3.5 rather than four stars. Though well-written and with deeply realized characters, it was more disjointed than the first book and included long diversions into alternate viewpoints. Still, I appreciated getting Zal's back story in the detail we did and enjoyed the different, converging storylines as well. And the diversions, while seeming a stall in the story (particularly Zal's extended off-world foray), were engaging enough in their own way and I rather suspect that they will serve as a foundation for the future stories. Indeed, considering the revelations in the final chapters, I suspect those parts will turn out to be rather critical in the upcoming adventure as Lila, Zal, and friends come to grapple with... uh, the changes in their circumstance(s).(less)
Good wrap up, and about what you'd expect given the series so far. Jack Campbell manages to surprise me, now and then. And I like that, though sometim...moreGood wrap up, and about what you'd expect given the series so far. Jack Campbell manages to surprise me, now and then. And I like that, though sometimes I can't believe how clueless Geary can be. (view spoiler)[Like, a battleship and two cruisers hovering near a far-off jump point in the Syndic home system screams "fleeing leaders" to me, but I didn't think of the in-hindsight-obvious mod to the safe-fail system on the hypernet gate that made that positioning so horrific. (hide spoiler)]
Edit: While it ends with nominal loose ends (there's a lot of work left to do in dealing with the aliens and the coming re-building), everything left would be, at best, anti-climax from this point on. I really liked that this series ended when and how it does.["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Mixing genres is a tricky business, and not just because it complicates the marketing. Each genre has its own norms and expectations and these often c...moreMixing genres is a tricky business, and not just because it complicates the marketing. Each genre has its own norms and expectations and these often come into conflict when you combine two strongly-defined genres like romance and sci-fi. Fortunately, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (for whom Kris DeLake is a pseudonym) is well up to the job.
There's a reason she used the Kris DeLake name to publish the book, however—it primarily adheres to the expectations of the romance genre. This was a true win, for me, so it's no wonder I liked it as well as I did.
Being Kristine Rusch, the sci-fi doesn't get short-shrift, either. The world building is superb and the technology well thought-out and consistent. My favorite piece of slight-of-hand was the setup for legal assassinations. In this universe, an assassin is treated as a tool with the onus of murder placed on whoever hired the assassin. This works as a legal framework, but, more importantly, it works as a moral framework within the novel as well*. Better, though, is that DeLake managed to give enough nuance to the setup that you can readily buy that the two main characters, Rikki and Misha, have different (and conflicting, at least on the surface) moral approaches to their job of killing people. I found these differences fascinating as well as illuminating of their motivations and inner landscape.
The book has some very well-paced action as the two work together (or not. mostly not.) to disentangle themselves from Rikki’s latest job. Misha wants to recruit Rikki and she really doesn't want to be recruited, so however well they fit emotionally and physically, there are a lot of obstacles to overcome if they are going to be together—however much they both rather want to be. It was great watching them work out the dynamics of their relationship, the culmination of which was extremely satisfying. And yes, since this is primarily romance, it's no secret that they're headed for what the romance readers call their HEA (happily ever after).
* It's not a moral framework that I endorse or adhere to, mind. But it is both consistent and a good deal better than many frameworks popular in government and university ethics courses, today.
A note about Steamy: This book falls in my mid-range for steamy content. There are a couple of explicit sex scenes and a few racy encounters. They differ from my "norm" mainly by their quality—uh, that'd be high quality...(less)
I read these first in the 7th grade. I remember seeking them out and being eager to get the next after finishing each. When I realized that I remember...moreI read these first in the 7th grade. I remember seeking them out and being eager to get the next after finishing each. When I realized that I remember searching the school library for the books more than the books themselves, I figured it might be fun to give them a new look. Since at least the first couple are old enough to be in the public domain (because Disney can't profit from them and bribe congress into extending copyright another couple decades), I picked up a copy at project Gutenberg.
And surprisingly, neither the age of the work nor my own, eh hem, maturity have diminished the sheer enjoyment of the story. Burroughs tells a ripping tale that never slows down enough to lose your interest. The pseudo-scientific/magical elements are mostly black-boxed enough that you really don't care that modern science makes the tale impossible. Who cares about the Mars rover when you have green-skinned, four-armed aliens coming at you with swords?!?
Yes, this is pulp fiction at heart. John Carter learns the language of Mars in a week. Dejah Thoris is present pretty much just to motivate John Carter into danger and derring-do. Tars Tarkas and Kantos Kan provide armed support when the action needs to be kicked up to the next level. And pretty much all the bad guys are irredeemably evil for no more reason than that's how they are.
But offsetting these sketchy elements is a depth of imagination that makes you want to ignore weaknesses in order to just enjoy the story. Burroughs creates not just creatures of dread and wonder, but societies and technologies that are both fun and interesting to explore. And I think that's the heart of the genius of these books. Burroughs enlists our inner sense of wonder to bypass our defenses and sell us his story. And he does it so gently that I can't resent him for it afterwards.
If you're willing to let go of your expectations of great literature, these books are a delight. If you're going to be all strict and stuff, you probably shouldn't bother. Parts of me wanted to rate this book a 3 because I liked it but recognize the weaknesses of its pulp-fiction heritage. Other parts wanted to rate it a 5 because I enjoyed it so much I really couldn't put it down. I compromised by giving it 4 stars for a great story that I can't recommend whole-heartedly.(less)
I was less charmed by this story than the first in the series. It's still a great lot of pulpy fun, but the story simply isn't as engaging. I think th...moreI was less charmed by this story than the first in the series. It's still a great lot of pulpy fun, but the story simply isn't as engaging. I think there’re two reasons for this.
First, you're missing two of the most charming elements from the first book: Woola and Dejah Thoris. Woola is entirely absent, sadly. Dejah Thoris exists solely as the lure to drag John Carter along. You only see her at the end, and even then only in semi-immediate jeopardy. The presence of these two greatly humanized Carter in the first book and gave the reader some release from the constant machismo action. The women throwing themselves at Carter in this book had to be rebuffed (because a true man is always faithful to his lady-love) and were thus at a distance from us, the readers, as well, so they hardly constitute the same humanizing influence we had with Dejah Thoris.
Second, John Carter is much more self-assured in this book. He knows the history and peoples and even being thrust into the center of the superstitions of his people (and supposedly out of his depth), this works more to put him in the way of knowing more even than the people he is discovering. After all, he is clear-eyed about the superstitions and thus doesn't have the blinders they suffer. Self-assurance should be a good thing, though, right? Maybe. In Carter's case it only serves to put his ego more firmly on display and thus lessen him as a sympathetic character.
For those who are living vicariously through John Carter—who want to slash down foes and have maidens fall in love with him—this book would be deeply satisfying. But there is no depth to the character and you end up feeling like you're following a great big ego around on a tour of self-satisfaction.
Okay, there's a third, more minor problem in the book, as well. The pacing in this one is much more ragged. Carter hops from prison to prison in this novel, so his movements are constrained by one thing or another over and over again. This prevents the novel from building up anything like a sense of momentum so it feels much more episodic than the prior story. Since these books were first serialized in a magazine, I suppose that makes sense, but this was so not an issue with the first book, that I wonder why it's so pronounced in this one.
In all, I'd say this feels like a middle novel of a trilogy, but one that is done particularly poorly. Oh, and the cliff-hanger ending is simply inexcusable. I'm glad I don't have to wait for the next to be written, but I'm a little wary of actually starting it.(less)
This book was incredibly hard to put down. Kristine Kathryn Rusch does an excellent job of building atmosphere—an interesting accomplishment consideri...moreThis book was incredibly hard to put down. Kristine Kathryn Rusch does an excellent job of building atmosphere—an interesting accomplishment considering the book is set almost entirely in space. The main character, known only as Boss, finds and explores (and sometimes later exploits with semi-guided tours) space derelicts. The action of the novel centers on relics that are, for some reason or another, "impossible"—relics that couldn't, rationally, be where or what they are.
While reading it, I kept thinking “this is as much a horror novel as it is sci-fi” but I'm not sure if that holds on retrospection. A lot of the tension is from the scary unknown, certainly. The wrecks are deep, dark, and deadly and exploring them is truly the act of people overriding their good sense to do so. The divers are deeply paranoid people and their precautions turn out to be well-founded. By the end, though, we find that that tension is in service to a more specifically sci-fi premise.
Which brings me to my final discontent with the book and what brought it down to three stars from my initial four. The ending is... weak. The conclusion the central team eventually came to was pretty obvious for at least the last half of the book and fighting against it was kind of quixotic to begin with. Switching tracks so near the end and giving a summary of events then seemed like Rusch short-circuited the “true” story. We got to see them thrash about with an untenable “solution” only to find that wasn't how they were going to resolve the main conflict after all.(less)
Again, Rusch proves that she can grab your attention and hold it, spellbound, for the length of a novel. This book feels more unified than Diving Into...moreAgain, Rusch proves that she can grab your attention and hold it, spellbound, for the length of a novel. This book feels more unified than Diving Into the Wreck as it all takes place in the same location and features the same people. I liked that and I ended up liking the bifurcated narrative as well.
City of Ruins adds a new perspective and alternates more-or-less evenly between Boss and Captain Cooper of the Dignity Vessel Ivoire. This is pleasantly disconcerting, at first, because it's unclear how Coop relates to Boss and her team and if (let alone when) they'll ever intersect. Rusch doesn't manipulate this unduly, so we establish relative positioning soon enough for the story to flow naturally.
Unlike the previous book where the setting drove most of the action, this book has the interaction between two functionally alien groups take the forefront as they work out a way to communicate with and, hopefully, trust each other. As deeply (and justifiably) paranoid as each group is, this is more gripping than you might think.
If I have a beef with the book, at all, it's that it ends on a... well, not a cliffhanger, precisely. Everything necessary is wrapped up. But I want to know what happens next anyway! Right now! And I don't think that's just the ADD talking...(less)
Melissa's review of this is outstanding and gives all the background and summary much better than I was prepared to.
I didn't like the book as much as...moreMelissa's review of this is outstanding and gives all the background and summary much better than I was prepared to.
I didn't like the book as much as she did, however. While Melissa enjoyed the half about Squishy, those sections detracted from my own enjoyment. It is true that Rusch does a masterful job of melding the past and present of her storyline together into what turns out to be a cohesive narrative. To me, though, Squishy still came out ultimately as both arrogant and selfish however much she was working to stop the Empire from continuing deadly research. She seemed to be acting continually from an adolescent framework where everything is about "me" and everybody should pay attention to me because I am right. In the end, she is repeating the very mistakes that lead to the problems in the first place: refusing to take responsibility for the consequences of her actions. I'll illustrate, but this comes from deep into the story, so it's spoilery: (view spoiler)[She goes in knowing that her capture will hand the empire the key to learning everything they need to know about stealth-tech because she, personally, knows and understand too much and they will stop at nothing to pry that information from her. She even acknowledges the risk and vows that she will die before allowing that to happen. Only it turns out that when push comes to shove, she really didn't mean it and hey, maybe she can hold out for a little while. She says she wants to stop the Empire but when the moral metal meets the road, she goes all passive, simply accepting that her cowardice will, once gain, jeopardize countless innocents. (hide spoiler)]
So yeah, I liked the book. And I particularly liked that (view spoiler)[Boss didn't hesitate to shoot her father. Yeah patricide is bad but some people need killing and she was handy and chose not to leave the chore to someone else. See, responsibility for the consequences of her action and/or inaction. She is so much a better person than Squishy even dreamed of being (hide spoiler)]. Squishy was enough of the story to knock this to three stars, but that's probably a personal idiosyncrasy and won't affect others as much.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This isn't the best of Bujold's work, but that still leaves room to be one of the best sci-fi books of the year.
I think it was weakest in characteriza...moreThis isn't the best of Bujold's work, but that still leaves room to be one of the best sci-fi books of the year.
I think it was weakest in characterization—which is usually a strong-point in a Bujold novel. It was mostly the little details that felt a little too cursory (like Ivan thinking of Tej as his wife from the beginning, even though it's supposed to be a temporary situation when a stronger reveal would be him getting there over time—and no, that is not a spoiler as we get this much in the first few chapters). Some of the problems were bigger, though.(view spoiler)[ For example, Tej's relationship with her family seemed to be strong with no hint of conflict or discomfort... until they show up and we see her interacting with them. Really, we should have had some indication of that tension before then, not least because we spend time from her perspective, worrying about their fate. (hide spoiler)]
That said this was a wonderful story about Ivan, and proof that he can hold his own as the main character and driving force in the plot. And what was done extremely well is illustrating how Ivan works—how he has been successful all these years in Miles’ shadow. Ivan comes at problems sideways with persistence and through following the easiest path he can invent that leads him in the right direction. He’s no shirker, mind. He works hard for his comfort because that’s what’s important to him (just as ambition and success are important to Miles). Because he is (mostly) clear-sighted and has a good understanding of the social and political landscape, this mostly works for him.(view spoiler)[ This is clearest illustrated at the end of the book with his new diplomatic assignment. He gets in, figures out what his job is, figures out how to make it most comfortable for himself, and then he sets to work arranging all the elements to his satisfaction. (hide spoiler)] His modus operandi is light-years distant from Miles', but, for his purposes, every bit as successful.
And, of course, Bujold does her normal stellar job of giving us a brilliant story with comedy, drama, and wonderful emotional payoffs intermixed in the action quite naturally. I read this book in one big gulp, but then, I knew that I would and had planned accordingly. Really, once you've hit the half-way point, you might as well strap in for the rest of the ride. And I wouldn't want it any other way.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It's old-school sci-fi evocative of Heinlein's juveniles, but with more grit and less social engineering. Hoyt gi...moreI enjoyed the heck out of this book. It's old-school sci-fi evocative of Heinlein's juveniles, but with more grit and less social engineering. Hoyt gives us a plot that moves quickly and is full of unexpected detours without ever derailing the sense of purpose and discovery. But don't let me get away with implying that it's all about the plot. I really liked the characters, as well, and enjoyed seeing the two main characters learn to respect each other and forge the bond that they needed to weather the storms they faced.(less)
This is a really hard book to classify. It's sci-fi, but with some mystery and romance thrown in. In the end, I think it’s about equally romance and s...moreThis is a really hard book to classify. It's sci-fi, but with some mystery and romance thrown in. In the end, I think it’s about equally romance and sci-fi with the mystery getting the shortest shrift.
I liked the premise, though it felt a little... sparsely populated. The story takes place on a world a handful of centuries after initial colonization is shut off by a closing of "the curtain". So the colonists know that they originate from Earth and that the artifacts found on the world are not from anything human. But their civilization is relatively well established and they're working things out in their isolation.
More interesting, the world seems to have changed humans somehow so that they have developed gifts that can only be termed psychic. Two of the more overt psychic gifts are used mainly to help people explore the vast underground tombs of the alien culture—allowing people to overcome the traps and "ghosts" buried as guardians. All of this smacks of unexamined assumptions to me, but then, I'd expect that in a centuries-old field of exploration with little feedback or built-in reality checks.
The sparsely-populated feel comes from the interaction between Lydia and her profession/world. It feels like there just aren't that many people doing things and I wish I could explain it better than that. Lydia and her new client, Emmett London, are kind of adrift with opponents striking from the shadows and fading away without leaving much to get a grip on to follow-up or find the primary movers. There isn't a lot to analyze where they stand or where they're going through the course of the mystery.
That said, I rather enjoyed Emmett and Lydia. Their relationship was enough to pull me into the story and keep me there long enough to find my bearings in the weird world they inhabit. By the end, I felt good enough about the series and where it is going that I'll certainly flag the sequel for reading in the future.(less)
So I've been completely blocked on writing about this book. There's just so much I want to burble about that it's been over a week since I finished it...moreSo I've been completely blocked on writing about this book. There's just so much I want to burble about that it's been over a week since I finished it and I still can't write coherently about it—which is a crying shame because I really loved this book! Or books.
First off: take it seriously when it says that it's a diary in three parts. It is exactly that and it maintains that fictive device throughout. That’s one reason this review has been so hard to write—because it really covers three books rather than one. I’m going to mash them all up and let this longer review stand for all three (without undue spoilers) just because that’s the only way I’ll get this out.
The story starts with the heroine, Cassandra Devlin (Cass) slipping from her native Australia after High School finals into an alternate world. No warning, no transition, just Poof! She has her schoolbag, the clothes she's wearing, and that's it. The first chapters are her weeks struggling to survive with worn-down safety scissors and various experiments in ripe fruit detection. This section was incredibly gripping as Höst does an excellent job of thinking through all the aspects of survival for a typical(ish) girl unprepared for a world without modern resources. My favorite part of this is when Cass writes “Definitely not Earth”. How does she know? Simple, her watch shows sundown being a half hour later each night—very clever, very natural, very much how a modern city-bred girl would know (without any other natural indicator like pink skies or something). The diary format works very well during this survival period as Cass is all alone and relating her tale as a way of coping with her situation.
If you've ever read an actual diary, you'll know that there's a particular flavor to them that separates them from most other writing—most notably the complete lack of dialogue. Dialogue is hard to write anyway, but writing of actual past conversations is near impossible. Once Cass is rescued, the book gets around that limitation in a very sneaky way that nevertheless works very well. The people rescuing her have technology advanced enough to have created the “interface”—nano computers integrating directly into the human body to provide personal assistance for things like language acquisition, study, and environment enhancement (if you build your rooms with white walls, you can decorate them virtually if the system can handle that kind of thing). A side-benefit is that Cass can “record” important conversations that she can then relate to her diary in a way that doesn't feel at all forced. This allows Höst to maintain the epistolary conceit and still tell a rocking good story (though still with the limitation that we know nothing completely catastrophic happens because we’re reading things at a temporal remove).
Höst does a great job thinking through the implications of the Taren interface and how people might use it in reality—i.e. beyond the gee-whiz factor. Indeed, she's pretty careful to humanize the society Cass finds herself in, even as she includes fantastical elements like the interface and psychic phenomenon (I'll get there in a bit). She also does a great job keeping us to Cass' perspective and letting us experience the culture the way Cass naturally would. We don't have any idea that her rescuers think she's a mental defective until she discovers it through a side comment overheard, for example (her interactions have been limited and specifically clinical as she tries to adapt to her new environment and culture so she just hasn’t had opportunity to know).
And that's where we get to the real adventure of the story. The Tarens are a world under siege by shadow creatures they call Ionoth. Incursions have been getting more frequent over time on an escalating growth scale with really bad implications if projected into the future. To cut to the chase, they know they have maybe a couple years before a crucial tipping point is reached and they become nothing more than a food source for monsters. The monsters can only be fought psionically, though, so it's a good thing the humans are psionically gifted. The most gifted people are recruited to be part of the Setari—specially trained agents on the front lines of the fight to preserve their world.
Cass shows up as a “stray”. Fortunately, this isn't entirely unprecedented—there's even a government program for strays to integrate them better into Taren society. What's unusual about Cass, however, is that she's the first stray they've ever seen that comes from a culture not based on a diaspora that occurred 1,500 years ago when their original homeworld was overtaken. So Cass is special and that includes having talents she wasn't aware of having and that may be useful in turning the tide against the Ionoth. Maybe. Yes, she becomes magical special girl. And that’s where Höst’s talent really shines because Cass is still very real, very human, and very believable even as her situation becomes more and more fantastic.
One of the things I loved about Cass is that she is fully a child of our modern world. When she learned to turn on name displays through her interface, for example, she compares it to walking around World of Warcraft, only with fewer shoulder pads. There are references to modern cyber/geek culture throughout the book (like a section headed, simply, “tl;dr” or another titled “Mister Vetinari”), though subtly enough that you won't feel picked on if you don't get them. Cass felt not only like a real person, but like one of “us”—an unabashed nerd with a thirst for new knowledge and perspectives. And the magic of it is that Höst pulled that off without even a hint of the Mary Sue about her (yes, even when Cass turns out to be magical special girl—a fact she, herself, points out in later books).
I fell in love with this series. I devoured them one after another and was very satisfied when I finally finished. I'm almost afraid to recommend them to other people because I really don't want to hear it if you hated the story. I don’t think I’m being irrational about this, but that’s always a possibility…(less)
Read my review of the first book. And frankly, if you're considering this book, you really should have read the first one already. If you haven't, go...moreRead my review of the first book. And frankly, if you're considering this book, you really should have read the first one already. If you haven't, go read it!
Small, though relevant, addendum: this book is where Cass starts having girly feelings for one of the Setari. I liked their relationship and Höst does a really good job with it, but it's something to note as there was a decided lack of such in the first book.
A note about Steamy: Yeah, I didn't flag this one as steamy. That's because it really isn't. Yes, there's sex, but the epistolary nature of the book gives you some distance and Cass never gets really graphic about it. It's enough that I want to note it, however, because it's frank enough that I wouldn't recommend the book for youngsters.(less)
Read my review of the first book. In this one, Cass continues to grow, including her maturing relationship with her boyfriend. This maturing arc as Ca...moreRead my review of the first book. In this one, Cass continues to grow, including her maturing relationship with her boyfriend. This maturing arc as Cass begins taking on truly adult responsibilities was an excellent development and one I really appreciated. Oh, and I loved that she pointed out that the "poke Devlin at it" strategy was simultaneously natural, foolish, and inevitable.(less)
Ouch. I hate it when authors neuter advances of prior books in subsequent works. I greatly enjoyed DarkShip Thieves, and one large reason was that I j...moreOuch. I hate it when authors neuter advances of prior books in subsequent works. I greatly enjoyed DarkShip Thieves, and one large reason was that I just liked Thena and Kit so much. They're fun characters in their own right and when they get together, that's multiplied in spades. This book begins with Thena becoming a dithering idiot in crucial moments and then remaps their whole relationship with a medical problem. (view spoiler)[There's a lot wrong with this, starting with how burners (the weapon) can suddenly hit you in the head with just enough energy to damage your brain but not enough to kill you outright—as if the bad guys would be shooting to stun at that point. Indeed, I didn't buy into the whole thing with Kit losing himself to Jarl. Even if brains could work that way, which I seriously doubt, it all seemed like it was manipulated to maximum drama in both timing and the progression of the takeover. (hide spoiler)]That's big, but only one of many aspects of this novel that don't make a lot of sense, to me (or that feel overtly manipulated by the author). I'm sad to see my love for the series die, but once I realized I was dreading coming back to the story, I decided it was time to quit.(less)