Wool is a series of five novellas by Hugh Howey, collected into one omnibus edition that works as a novel. The setting is “post-apocalyptic interior”...moreWool is a series of five novellas by Hugh Howey, collected into one omnibus edition that works as a novel. The setting is “post-apocalyptic interior” which is something I made up just for this review. The survivors of an unknown apocalypse live in a giant silo that delves deep into the earth, one hundred and fifty stories down. ‘Up top’ has a view of the outside world, courtesy of a series of cameras. Though the view is open to anyone who wishes to look, only a portion of the population usually take advantage. Residents in close proximity, the mayor, the sheriff and deputy, the up top café staff, and those condemned to clean. Yes, I said clean. Serious crimes carry an unusual sentence: the condemned are suited up and sent outside with a set of wool scrubbers. Once there, they are expected to clean the camera sensors before invariably wandering halfway up the surrounding hill to die, presumably from the toxic atmosphere that quickly eats through the suit.
Cleanings don’t happen often, but they are an event that inspires upward mobility. Residents of ‘the mids’ and ‘deep down’ might venture up the staircase that acts as a highway of sorts, connecting all one hundred and fifty levels of the silo, to take advantage of the rarest of sights, a dawn unsullied by a coating of toxic dust. A festival-like atmosphere takes over the silo in the wake of a cleaning and if you’re thinking that sounds kind of strange, you’re not alone. That’s the creepy thread running through this novel, the element of ‘this isn’t right’ that inspires the plot and plucks certain characters from obscurity to notice as a ripple of the unreal flushes from top to bottom.
Each part of the novel is compelling. At over five hundred pages, the book feels like a long haul, but it’s not. Firstly, each formerly serialized novella acts as an encapsulated adventure. The conclusion is not five hundred pages away. It could actually be just a page away. Secondly, I quickly forgave Hugh Howey his verbosity, and took pleasure in each passage of descriptive narrative. His setting is unique; I wanted to learn about it, and what better way than to travel within the thoughts of each protagonists as they move through the silo, from up top to down deep. The silo is a microcosm of society, organised and stratified. I could have lived within the minutiae of Mechanical down on level one-fifty, or anywhere in between. A story from the point of view of one of the porters who ferry notes and cargo up and down the stairs would be fascinating.
The compressed environment, or “post-apocalyptic interior", is something I haven’t read for a while and it also works really well for the plot, which is basically quite simple: as records deleted from the last Uprising are recovered, the residents of the silo begin to ask questions. Asking too many questions, or the wrong sort—such as why are we here and what is beyond the hill littered with the bodies of cleaners, inevitably lead to the same fate: a suit and a wool pad. But, human nature proves itself over and again, which is one of the reasons I like post-apocalyptic fiction so much. We live in and for cycles, even self-defeating ones.
Woven within the plot are several intrigues and relationships. I enjoyed the intrigues and by the end of the fifth part, most of my questions were answered in a satisfactory manner. I did have to suspend disbelief on a couple of points, but this is science fiction. Where the book did fall a little flat for me was in the romance department. I hear you thinking ‘what?’. No, I don’t usually pick up post-apocalyptic fiction for the romance, but if it’s in there, I’ll live it and breathe it with the characters. Howey’s take, and that of his characters, struck me as immature, however. He spends a lot of time developing his characters and exploring their relationships with others. We have family dynamics, friendships, marriage and love. But there is no sex. There is no infidelity. No, the book doesn’t need either, but the depth of the relationships comes up short without hints of either. They are too sweet and too perfect, even when the awful reality of the made-up world intrudes. The silo is a very restricted place and in some respects the citizens feel a bit too law abiding. That seeming obeisance to the law works as constrained by the plot, but I’d like to have glimpsed a little more of the seamy underside. Sex, drugs, gangs.
It’s a small quibble, and not one that will stop me from delving into Shift, the collected stories of volume two of the ‘Silo’ series.
I usually upgrade my ratings of Catherine Asaro's books after I think about them for a while, so I'll start this one at four stars. It felt like a thr...moreI usually upgrade my ratings of Catherine Asaro's books after I think about them for a while, so I'll start this one at four stars. It felt like a three, as in I liked the book enough to finish it, but I wasn't blown away. I didn't love it. But afterwards, I thought about it and that's what always happens with Asaro's books. I think about them.
I do love her Skolian Saga. I love the back story, the lost colony scenarios, the space opera, the romance and the Ruby heirs. Not every book is what I want it to be, but I didn't write them, eh? My favourites, for the record, are Primary Inversion and The Ruby Dice. I also like The Last Hawk, mostly because I read it after The Ruby Dice. That was another book that I had to sit on for a while, though. Reading it felt like a bit of a trial at times. It was long and Kelric suffers so much. But it really does build a character who is like no other in science fiction. And that's Catherine Asaro's specialty: building characters.
She builds worlds, too, and Balumil, the planet where she met the cast of characters for The Quantum Rose is one of her most interesting. It's biosculpted rather than terraformed and the humans left to colonise it are engineered to cope with the long days and the years-long seasons that are the result of an elliptical orbit. I'm not terribly scientific, but that's how I read it and it sounded pretty neat. As an aside, seeing as I'm already digressing, Asaro's books are always full of hard maths and science. I sometimes grasp it, but not always. Rather than feel stupid, I'm usually just in awe of her intellect, though.
Kamoj is governor of Argali, which is a province, for want of a better term. For fifteen years she has been betrothed to Jax Ironbridge, who is governor of a larger province. But there’s a new noble in town, the mysterious Havyrl Lionstar, and when he makes a bid for Kamoj’s hand, he inadvertently upsets the delicate balance of politics on Balumil. What follows reads something like a historical romance set in a science fiction future.
What usually bogs me down in Asaro’s novels is the sometimes repetitive explanations of facts, as if the author isn’t sure if we get what she’s getting at. In this instance, it’s the fact that Kamoj and everyone on her planet were engineered not only to adapt to the difficult environment, but to serve as slaves. They are a subservient people who bow to pressure, give succor to others even when they are hurting, and generally live to please others, often at detriment to themselves. It’s an interesting view of genetic engineering and a concept that takes the usual super soldier twist and does something else. What makes it more interesting here, in this novel, is that this is exactly how the Ruby Dynasty was created. The dynasty Havyrl Lionstar is part of. So, Vyrl has a lot in common with his new young wife. This helps both of them adjust to their change of circumstances, and because they resonate together, he as a Ruby Scion and Kamoj as an empath, together they are able to override their ‘programming’, for the good of her world and his.
If you haven’t read Catherine Asaro before, or are unfamiliar with the Skolian Saga, you might be a little lost about now. One thing Asaro does do in each book of the saga is inject enough information to catch up the casual reader. I often chafe at having to read through it again and again, but sometimes I pick up a new fact or two. The edition of The Quantum Rose I read also has a nice family chart for the Ruby Dynasty and some explanation of the science behind the unique naming conventions on the planet Balumil and how the author tied them into the story.
The reason I decided to bump this up to four stars, even though it’s not close to my favourite entry in the saga is mostly because of the story behind the story. The stuff that got me thinking: the examination of genetic engineering—the pitfalls and morality and what it all might mean for our future. As always, I also enjoyed Asaro’s commentary on the male and female roles. She has definite ideas here. On the surface, her characters fit an expected mold, but underneath they are always much more complex, and that’s what makes The Quantum Rose worth reading. (less)
Miranda recruits Jacob to Cerberus by offering him a mission he can’t refuse: collecting Shepard’s body from the edge of the galaxy. They travel to th...moreMiranda recruits Jacob to Cerberus by offering him a mission he can’t refuse: collecting Shepard’s body from the edge of the galaxy. They travel to the Terminus system to deal with Batarians. We all should know right there things are going to go awry.
This is an interesting installment in the series because it deals with the backstory of more than one character. We have Jacob’s induction into Cerberus, his and Miranda’s interest in finding Shepard, Kai Leng being all jealous at the beginning (he didn’t get the coveted mission) and TIM being his usual, charming, complicated self. There is also a good slice of action and a hint of plot that will take us beyond a single issue of the comic.
I didn’t get to know Jacob any better. He’s as uninteresting here as he is in the game. I know, poor Jacob. But not every character can be compelling. We need some to just sit back and reflect the glory of others. Miranda’s interest in Shepard is…interesting. I assume it’s a scientific thing, but for players who romanced her, more could be read between the lines. Perhaps.
Agent Rasa’s involvement serves as another introduction, but this time the entire comic seems to take place in the past, rather offer a glimpse of it. I assume this is because Rasa is a Cerberus agent, and so in place for this foundation story.
I did enjoy the story in this comic. I also liked the way many of the panels highlighted expression and directed the action. The story and art flowed really seamlessly from place to place. But Miranda didn’t look quite like Miranda and there were some instances where I thought Jacob had been swapped out for Mr. T., but with more hair.
The cliffhanger ending means I will be looking into the next issue, but I do wonder if my attachment to all things Mass Effect plays a greater part in me continuing to read this series. Probably, but I imagine the comics were created to take advantage of just that. It’s not that the stories aren’t interesting. They are. I think where the series feels off to me is Agent Rasa. I get that she’s a unifying element, but I’m not convinced she’s necessary. As a fan, I’d be just as happy to sit down and read through an ordered series of prequels.
‘Chivarly: A Jake Savage Adventure’ is a short story that elegantly examines the concept of chivalry. Like so many idealised concepts, that of the nob...more‘Chivarly: A Jake Savage Adventure’ is a short story that elegantly examines the concept of chivalry. Like so many idealised concepts, that of the noble warrior can be destroyed by the reality of war or the aftermath. Stories of battle more usually depict the bravery of the mounted soldiers who lead the charge, the strategy, the cunning and, if you’re lucky, the blood and the gore. Medieval battle was horrific. Even the smallest wound could turn septic and kill a man. Not many stories cover what happens after. The filth and more lingering varieties of death: aforementioned wounds and privation. An army of any size requires vast quantities of food. They can leave the countryside stripped and starving. That’s the setting of this short story.
Desperate for food and warmth, a small band of English soldiers make for a castle behind a deserted French village. They suspect the remaining villagers are holed up there, along with any supplies. The promise of shelter from the rain is motivation enough. A lone knight guards the bridge. A lady sits in a pavilion behind and it is she who warns off the English soldiers. The knight is curiously silent, but soon proves deadly.
Invited to duel the knight, the English quickly abuse the notion of chivalry. The archers, Jake Savage among them, are ordered to attack first. When their arrows apparently have no effect, men are sent onto the bridge two at a time. The knight cuts them down like wheat. Jake is directed to find another way around the bridge.
At this point in the story, it becomes obvious there is an element of fantasy at play. Arrows appear to slip through the knight’s armour and his sword is wickedly sharp and accurate. The English become more desperate. Jake does find a way around the knight and a way to stop him. It is in the aftermath of this skirmish that Jake proves he is more chivalrous than the knight leading the English band.
Mark Lord is the author of several adventures in alternate history. His interest in both history and fantasy are obvious in this story. He also edits ‘Alt Hist’, a magazine of historical fiction and alternate history. ‘Chivalry’ is the first story of his I have read and liked it a lot. Aside from his choice to play with the definition of chivalry, I also liked the setting, that of the aftermath of battle. I don’t think it is covered enough, which is a shame as the ashes of war give rise to some of the most history and alternate history tales I have read.
3.5 Good. Not outstanding. Rounded up to four for emotional punch.
The mystery didn't interest me as much as the odd friendship between Jimmy and Numi....more3.5 Good. Not outstanding. Rounded up to four for emotional punch.
The mystery didn't interest me as much as the odd friendship between Jimmy and Numi. I liked Numi a lot. I liked hearing Jimmy's thoughts on Numi. Jimmy's thoughts on dying were very thought-provoking, if somewhat repetitive. That would have been one of the major faults of the book, the wandering and repetitive thought. It works in snatches as a dying man's consciousness, but after a while it loses the side-show edge.
Still, the ending was very touching. Expected, but touching nonetheless.(less)
Tossed. Separate narratives were too unrelated (up to the point where I tossed it), and both felt very immature. Research issues. Could not relate to...moreTossed. Separate narratives were too unrelated (up to the point where I tossed it), and both felt very immature. Research issues. Could not relate to HP and the actions of the 'game' did not appeal to me as a reader.(less)
‘The Adversary’ is the third book in the Forgotten Realms, multi-author event ‘The Sundering’. I have not read Erin Evans before, but a glance at the...more‘The Adversary’ is the third book in the Forgotten Realms, multi-author event ‘The Sundering’. I have not read Erin Evans before, but a glance at the blurb and the chance to jump back into Faerûn had me hopping from foot to foot until the ARC hit my hands. Wrapped in a devilishly barbed tale of intrigue, ‘The Adversary’ furthers the adventures of the tiefling, Farideh and her companions.
Finding herself in a bind—one tighter than the pact she shares with the cambion, Lorcan—Fariden strikes a bargain with Lorcan’s sister. The deal quickly devolves into a mess of disastrous proportions and the only way out is for Farideh to follow the instructions of her new patroness. She winds up in a secure and secluded fortress in Netheril. That’s when things start to get really interesting.
The camp within the fortress houses prisoners of all races. Many appear to be quite ordinary, but it is the few who are not that catch her attention. These are Chosen and they are a part of the mystery Farideh is unwittingly involved in. As she figures out who they are and what their purpose is, she discovers who and what she is as well.
Erin M. Evans does a fantastic job of catching up the casual reader. Being familiar with her characters would make ‘The Adversary’ more compelling…maybe. Having being introduced at the beginning of this book, I found the journey of all the characters very satisfying. In particular, Dahl’s story. The fallen paladin quickly captured my imagination. He comes across as an atypical hero, which led me to expect great things, of course! I enjoyed his struggle as much as I did Farideh’s, which makes me sound rather sadistic. But, as readers, we’d rather see a character grow than go out for coffee, right? Strength usually comes from adversity and all that. The conclusion to his portion of the story alone is enticement enough for me to reach for the next novel.
The pace of ‘The Adversary’ is a little slow at times, but this does allow Evans to share the thoughts of all the players. I did not really mind the sometimes ambulatory pace; I understand an author’s desire to visit with each of her characters. For instance, the slow reveal of Clanless Mehen’s back story adds depth to all the characters and therefore the novel. The exploration of the romance between Havilar and Brin is sweet. The more complicated relationship between Farideh and Lorcan is another of those elements that will have me reading forward.
‘The Adversary’ is a satisfying entry in ‘The Sundering’ series. As a novel, it’s a good read. As part of its own series, I’m sure it will delight fans. What impresses me the most is the author’s confidence in shifting events on Toril, messing with the grand order, while advancing her own story arc. Well done!
Have you ever read a short story and wished there was more? What came before or after? Another voice or just a bit more. Often, that’s the mark of a g...moreHave you ever read a short story and wished there was more? What came before or after? Another voice or just a bit more. Often, that’s the mark of a good short story. The questions don’t really need answering, but that you’d like them to be means you were invested and you’d like to read on. It’s always with a sense of delight that I pick up a book that delves back into a quickly visited world.
I first encountered Mayra, mistress of the solstice, in a short story called ‘Solstice Maiden’ which appeared in the anthology ‘Once Upon A Curse: Stories And Fairy Tales For Adult Readers’. ‘Mistress Of The Solstice’ expands on that short story and does so in a way that answers many of the small queries I had.
Mayra is a priestess. Once a year, she must sacrifice a virgin in order to prolong the life of her father, the tzar Kashchey. She believes Kashchey uses his power to protect the kingdom from their enemies and so performs her gruesome task with the emotionless detachment he has taught her. Ivan is the youngest son of another tzar who wants to see Kashchey’s cruel dominion come to an end. With the help of select Immortals, Baba Yaga, Leshy, Raven and a mysterious grey wolf, he hopes to end the sacrifices. Mayra holds the key to her father’s power but first, he has to make her feel emotion. She has to care.
The twist in the tale still came as a surprise, which is a testament to the author’s storytelling skills. I was caught up, again, until the end. Ivan’s side of the story, previously unexplored, is the stuff of classic fairy tales. He calls himself a fool, but he is not foolish and is only earnest in his beliefs and his desire to be good and help others.
Mayra’s journey seems to go the opposite direction. She believes she knows everything when, really, she is more innocent than the boy she thinks a fool. The intersection of these two characters is symbolised by a flower called Ivan-and-Mayra. It should be two flowers, but they grow together and inspire stories of fated lovers.
‘Mistress Of The Solstice’ is not Anna Kashina’s strongest book. I prefer her ‘Dhagabad’ novels. I enjoyed Ivan’s side of the tale and found him to be an endearing character. I had more difficulty connecting with Mayra. Sometimes, the short snippets of thought, chapters of a single page, raised more questions than they answered but Kashina’s interest in folk lore and desire to tell her own story does shine through. This is still a good book and at just over two hundred pages, it’s a quick read and one fans of her other books will likely enjoy.
‘The Last Of Us’ is a comicbook based on the recently released video game of the same name. The setting is post-apocalyptic and the main character is...more‘The Last Of Us’ is a comicbook based on the recently released video game of the same name. The setting is post-apocalyptic and the main character is Ellie, the young girl featured on the cover of the game. The comic serves as a prequel. This review covers the first four issues as collected in the first trade edition, ‘The Last Of Us: American Dreams’.
Ellie arrives at what appears to be a school for orphaned children. It’s not immediately obvious why there are so many of them, but there are enough hints that the reader gains the idea the world outside is not safe. There is mention of the infected and security is tight and there are a lot of heavies with guns dotted throughout the pages.
After going through a typical initiation, lets beat up the new kid, Ellie befriends Riley, an older girl who is just shy of sixteen. Riley shares the bitter news that on her sixteenth birthday, she’ll be shoved out into the world and given a gun, forced to join the fighting ranks. Riley wants another option, one that is going to involve Ellie, whether she likes it or not.
Riley has an unhealthy interest in the Fireflies, who seem to be a military outfit at odds with the regular forces. It’s unclear if they are at the opposite end of the fight or simply do things differently. When the pair catch up with the Fireflies, things don’t go quite as planned. (Wouldn’t be as exciting, otherwise!)
Chapter four, the last issue collected in this book, reveals the answers to a lot of questions. What type of school Ellie was in and why she was there. The reader also learns about the Fireflies. It’s a very tense chapter and definitely inspires interest in the rest of the story. Previously unexplored sides of Riley and Ellie are exposed, deepening their characters.
I like more painterly art between the chapters that preface the action to come. The soft colours are a nice contrast to the bolder lines and colours of the comic book pages. I also like the pages that tell the story visually rather than rely on dialogue or comments. There are a good proportion of them and they very clearly convey both action and mood. They’re well-conceived. The last few pages feature a series of concept sketches. I always appreciate those additions to the collected editions of comic books.
I enjoyed this comic and I’d definitely keep up with the series. I would like to know more about the world, but I wasn’t overly frustrated by the slow reveal. The infected are zombies and there have been enough books and movies about zombies that I can draw some rudimentary conclusions. What sets this story apart, at present, is the characters. Yes, we’ve seen zombies before. We’re almost numbed to the horror of them. But this is the first time I’ve seen a young female protagonist. It makes a refreshing change.
I have been excited about this book since I first stumbled across a stunning digital painting featuring a bloodied, bullet-ridden soldier. I immediate...moreI have been excited about this book since I first stumbled across a stunning digital painting featuring a bloodied, bullet-ridden soldier. I immediately researched the artist and discovered Dan Luvisi, who is not only extraordinarily talented, but also a really nice guy, in my opinion. His website will prove the first, his Facebook page the second. He is responsive to his fans, continually excited about his work and supportive of other artists. When invited to review a digital copy of Last Man Standing: Killbook Of A Bounty Hunter, I immediately said yes. I had pre-ordered my own copy months ago and, more recently, got my hands on one at the Dark Horse display at the New York Comic Convention. It’s as gorgeous as I imagined it might be.
Last Man Standing: Killbook Of A Bounty Hunter is difficult to define. It’s an art book; weighty and blessed with a cover that begs to be opened. It’s large enough to require its own space on the coffee table, or stick out from a bookcase, enticing those who thought to wander past. It’s also a story aimed at an adult audience who appreciate pictures with their words. It’s not a graphic novel, though. It’s…a killbook. What is that, exactly? Well, to understand that, you need to know a little about the man it belongs to.
Gabriel is the last of the Paladins, a genetically engineered super-soldier. After winning the ‘Nomen War’ and being awarded the title ‘Protector of Amerika’, he is framed by the terrorist organisation Pandemonium for the murder of his special forces team, Pantheon. The company that created him, Armatech, locks their ‘errant’ Paladin away in the Level-9 facility. There, Gabriel endures (survives?) nine years of torture before his escape is engineered by a former agent of Armatech.
Upon his release, Gabriel discovers Armatech has filled the void left by their Paladin Soldier by over enthusiastically cleaning up the world. Hint: they leave it shiny, but only because the undesirables have been put somewhere else. Out of sight, out of mind, eh? Armed with files, the killbook, on the men and women responsible for corrupting ‘Amerika’, Gabriel embarks on a quest to restore order.
The first two pages of the killbook throw the reader right into the story. There’s a letter from Gabriel that hints at the fact he’s not the most mentally balanced individual after nine years of torture. That is followed by a letter from Agent O, the man who assisted Gabriel’s escape from the Level-9 facility. With the facts from those two brief missives, you’re ready to go and to quote Gabriel, ‘…it’s going to be one hell of a ride.’
This book has everything. Maps, the re-imagined map of New Earth has Mexico labelled ‘El Badlands’. That’s what I’m going to call it from now on (sorry, Mexico). Timelines and snippets of history that tell the story of the ‘Nomen War’ and the events leading up to it.
Then there are the files, which include portraits of each target, dossier-style documentation, detailed illustrated weaponry and known associates. Collected with the files are cards that quickly summarise the facts and…advertising, which gives the killbook the homey feel of a scrapbook. A gruesome scrapbook.
It’s obviously a labour of love, which fits so well with Gabriel’s enthusiasm for it. Throughout, there are notes from the Paladin, comments and observations. His tone is both endearing and disturbing. He sounds idealistic at times, but must be anything but. As I flipped through, I looked forward to these notes. I gained the sense the handsome Gabriel stood at my shoulder, pointing at this page and that in a way that made sure I understood his part in the story.
The file I most wanted to see was on page 192: Gabriel’s file. It’s in the killbook to remind him of who he is and to encourage him to keep perspective. The letter inside has a more sober tone, but his enthusiasm is still obvious.
The last quarter of the book is presented as a package from Little Oak Elementary School. The students are apparently fans of Gabriel and have sent him some of their collectibles. In addition, they have included art of their favourite paladin. This art is actually done by fans of Dan Luvisi and his project and all of it is gorgeous. The fact it is included in the book is stunning and a perfect representation of Dan, himself. How often do you find an artist who pays tribute to his fans in print. IN PRINT! That’s who this guy is. Finally, there is a long dedication and it’s just as awesome as the rest of the book.
Last Man Standing: Killbook Of A Bounty Hunter is well over two hundred some pages of Dan Luvisi’s art, but it’s not just a series of glossy prints with a small paragraph of description; it’s a world created solely by the artist and populated by his imagination, enthusiasm and dedication. It’s all his. Every page is art and it’s all held together by story. It’s a wonderful concept and an awesome book.