Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells is what 2001: A Space Odyssey would’ve been if the monolith had actually talked to the crew.
NASA has known about anFluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells is what 2001: A Space Odyssey would’ve been if the monolith had actually talked to the crew.
NASA has known about an alien spaceship parked in the Asteroid Belt since the 1960s but has kept the information from the public. All efforts to establish radio contact have been met with silence. In the early 21st century, NASA finally develops the technology required to send six astronauts to the ship to discover its secrets.
Dr. Jane Holloway is a linguist and a reluctant astronaut recruited by NASA to communicate with any possible aliens. As soon as their capsule docks with the mysterious ship, she begins to hear voices. She not only has a hard time convincing herself they are real, but most of her crew as well.
When the mission takes a disturbing turn that not even the highly trained astronauts are prepared for, it’s Jane’s connection to the ship that becomes their only hope for survival.
Fluency was a finely written derelict spaceship story. Wells’ style and language are beautiful and descriptive without relying on cliché. Wells does not overly explain the science behind the ship's gadgets, but gives us just enough to make them all seem plausible without bogging the story down.
I liked how the alien cultures that the ship reveals to Jane Holloway sounded very different from one another, even among individuals within a species. Too many sci-fi stories depict aliens as one monolithic culture where all individuals share the same values. I prefer my aliens to be, well, more human and unique between individuals. Besides drone-like insectoid aliens, that just seems more realistic to me and Wells does a fine job of it in this book.
I only had some minor nit-picks. The main characters ruminated too much for my taste, making me skip pages at a time to get back to the action. I also thought the ending was too abrupt; I got the feeling I had just read the opening chapter of a longer work rather than a complete work in itself. Fluency's sub-title is "Confluence Book 1," so this was obviously by design, but I'm not a fan of the style.
Fluency is Wells' debut novel and an impressive effort that I enjoyed. It hit all the right notes that a derelict spaceship story should hit. The novel only hints at the strange galaxy awaiting humanity, so I look forward to the alien wonders that Wells introduces us to in the sequel. ...more
Hard sci-fi with thrilling action and memorable characters is difficult to pull off, so this one earned all 5 stars. Looking forward to the rumored moHard sci-fi with thrilling action and memorable characters is difficult to pull off, so this one earned all 5 stars. Looking forward to the rumored movie!...more
Chained by Fear, book two in Jim Melvin’s Death Wizard Chronicles, begins the story of Laylah, the beautiful sister of the evil sorcerer Invictus. InvChained by Fear, book two in Jim Melvin’s Death Wizard Chronicles, begins the story of Laylah, the beautiful sister of the evil sorcerer Invictus. Invictus has imprisoned Laylah in a magical tower, hoping that she’ll one day become his queen and rule the world of Triken with him.
Laylah, however, happens to be the sane one in the family. She’s repulsed at the thought of marrying her own brother, let alone spending her life with a depraved lunatic with god-like powers. She’s locked away for seventy years—her demon blood gives her long life—before finally escaping with the help of Invictus’s former allies.
While on the run, she meets Torg the Death-Knower, a powerful wizard in his own right. We last saw Torg in Forged in Death, after he had escaped Invictus’s vile prison and made some roguish friends. When Laylah and Torg meet, sparks fly. Literally. They are drawn to each other in a supernatural passion that neither can explain. They only know that their fates are entwined and that they will live or die together.
But Invictus has something to say about this. He unleashes his hideous minions to retrieve Laylah and finally destroy the Death-Knower, the one being in all of Triken that can oppose him.
When you pick up a Jim Melvin novel, you know you’re in for two things:
(1) Melvin excels at world-building. Triken’s cultures, magic, and monsters all resonate with real-world mythologies. But Melvin adds unique twists that make them at once familiar and alien.
(2) Melvin’s Death Wizard Chronicles are adult fantasy. Make no mistake, this series if far more G.R.R. Martin than J.R.R. Tolkien due to its sexual content and violence. However, I did not think the sex and violence were gratuitous, and I thought it helped illustrate either the depravity or kindness of the characters.
Chained by Fear resolves a minor quibble I had with Forged in Death. Torg was too powerful in book one, and nothing could hurt him unless he allowed it. It’s the challenge that Superman's writers have dealt with for decades: how do you make readers worry about a character who can’t be hurt?
Melvin solved this by giving Torg cherished friends. He may not die if he fails, but his friends surely will, and in gruesome ways. Torg’s adventures were far more harrowing this time around, and gave him the chance to demonstrate his honor and strength while he protected the people he loves. Melvin nicely sets up a character in Torg who is the polar opposite of the wicked Invictus.
And the fact they love the same woman will make their inevitable battle viciously personal. I’m looking forward to it.
[Note: Cross-posted at The New Podler Review of Books.]...more
The Tattered Banner is not your typical rags-to-riches fantasy story, but it does start out as one.
The hero, Soren, is plucked from a starving streetThe Tattered Banner is not your typical rags-to-riches fantasy story, but it does start out as one.
The hero, Soren, is plucked from a starving street urchin’s life by a famous nobleman to attend Ostia’s prestigious Academy of Swordsmanship. Magic is outlawed in Ostia, so the Duchy’s best and brightest become master swordsmen to move up in society.
It’s an opportunity that’s too good to be true, and Soren recognizes this. He becomes the hardest working student at the Academy because he knows that one failure could throw him back on the streets; something his rich, noble classmates don’t have to worry about. It soon becomes clear that Soren has a magical “Gift” with a blade that enables him to defeat almost anyone he faces despite his limited training.
That’s where the story turns away from the typical hero’s journey.
The Tattered Banner is not about undertaking quests or vanquishing dark lords, but how one young man survives from day to day with only his wits and his Gift. Soren’s journey throughout the book is like a series of random encounters—something happens to him, he makes a choice, and then he blasts off into a totally new direction. His adventures are certainly thrilling and had me turning the pages. I suppose random encounters are what real life is like.
Which leads to my one criticism. The Tattered Banner is well told, but I felt like there was something missing: an overall goal for Soren to work towards that ties everything together. Soren simply tries to survive from one unrelated situation to the next. He has an intriguing magical skill with the sword, but that doesn’t seem to be at the top of his “to do list” to investigate. I was hoping the book would make that Soren’s overall goal, and show how it conflicted with Ostia’s anti-magic laws. But it never happened.
Though Soren makes some poor decisions, I still rooted for him, nonetheless. He never forgets that he was once a starving orphan on the streets, which makes you understand his actions when he does things that are, at best, morally questionable.
The Tattered Banner is book one of a series, so I hope future volumes will explore the mystery of Soren’s magical Gift with the sword. I did enjoy the book very much because of its action and interesting characters, despite my reservations about the plot structure.
Cross-posted on New Podler Review of Books....more
Exciting read with characters I rooted for from beginning to end. Even the villains were sympathetic at times, which made their conflicts with the herExciting read with characters I rooted for from beginning to end. Even the villains were sympathetic at times, which made their conflicts with the heroes all the more intense. Highly recommended....more