Steven Brust's very professional piece of Firefly fanfiction (not actually, he began it as a tie-in novel; when that deal fell through, he released it...moreSteven Brust's very professional piece of Firefly fanfiction (not actually, he began it as a tie-in novel; when that deal fell through, he released it as fan fic under a Creative Commons license) is a welcome chance to spend a little more time with Mal, Zoe, Wash, Simon, River, Kaylee and Jayne, and fills in the time between the TV series and the film rather nicely.
Brust gets each character's voice perfectly -- and you know it, because each scene is narrated from a different character's point of view, you aren't told up front who it is, but you never wonder for more than a few sentences.
I was happy to spend more time with everyone (especially Wash), but the story felt a bit thin, rather like an over-long episode of the show than a full novel. (And, at 55,000 words, it's a bit short for a novel, even by old SF paperback standards, where 75-80k would have been on the shorter end.) Still, I was thankful to have even this much more time with Serenity's crew.
Completely enjoyable first installment in Drake's space-opera take on Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin series.
The combination of jaunty high adventur...moreCompletely enjoyable first installment in Drake's space-opera take on Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin series.
The combination of jaunty high adventure with Drake's usual unblinking presentation of brutality works much better for me than his usual straight military SF. The moments of amusement and fun are a good respite from the bleak results of violence.
Drake also makes the very interesting decision to make one of the viewpoint characters a sociopath who knows, more or less, what she is, and tries very hard not to be. I look forward to what he does with the character in the later installments of the series.(less)
Lt. Daniel Leary, based on his adventures in "With the Lightnings", finds himself in command of a corvette with a loyal and hyper-competent crew, and...moreLt. Daniel Leary, based on his adventures in "With the Lightnings", finds himself in command of a corvette with a loyal and hyper-competent crew, and a mission to deliver a political exile back to his home planet. Or so it would seem.
More space opera goodness, with a good bit more planet-hopping and space-battling than the first go-round, and it ends up being just about as satisfying as the first book.
The opening quarter or so of the book felt bloated to me, with Drake giving in to the temptation to catalog things rather than just give the essential, evocative detail. Some of this may be due to the nature of the story -- neither Leary nor Adele Mundy have the slightest clue what is going on for a large chunk of the book and, therefore, neither does the reader. Until about halfway through, it's clear that something's not right, but you only begin being able to put together just what in the latter half of the book. (You may view it as either blessing or curse, but Drake does not drop long explanations on his reader, expecting that the reader should be able to put pieces together himself in the end.) Even taking that into consideration, I felt the opening was slow, and not as fun as the first book (or as the later stages of this one).
That said, this was still a very enjoyable read, and I'm probably going to jump into the next one before other, more important things which I likely ought to read first.(less)
The third book in Drake's highly enjoyable space opera series continues his tradition of transposing 18th century British naval situations into space....moreThe third book in Drake's highly enjoyable space opera series continues his tradition of transposing 18th century British naval situations into space. This time out, Daniel Leary's former command, the corvette "Princess Cecile", is decommissioned and sold to a wealthy foreign noble intent on exploring the "Galactic North", where piracy abounds, as well as uncivilized planets that still haven't recovered from the Hiatus in interstellar travel. Leary is hired to captain the ship, and he hires all the "Sissy"'s former naval crew to run her. Off they set into high space, bound for adventure.
It has been a long time since I read a pure picaresque space adventure. When I was quite young, I devoured such stories in very short sittings, drunk on the infinite possibilities to be found in the universe. Coming to one from a more experienced and informed perspective, I mostly saw the limitations that Drake's story set upon the possibilities. And didn't mind them, either, since Drake is a sterling storyteller.
There was none of the initial bloat that I felt unbalanced the second book, the story clips right along, from planet to planet, with plenty of action along the way, and in particular a thumping good climactic battle. I very much like the future history Drake has created for this series, and the possibilities it leaves open for further adventures and exploration. I hope, at some future point, that he has a more cerebral adventure in the series, one where Adele Mundy's pursuit of some historical nugget of information (most likely a book) drives the story, more than military tactical advantage. There's always a bit of that, but I'd find it fun to have the battle stuff be incidental background music for once, rather than front and center every time.
All in all, thoroughly fun and quite a satisfying read.(less)
I had a bit of trouble focusing on this one, but that's likely my fault, and not David Drake's.
The plot is more complex and intricate than previous en...moreI had a bit of trouble focusing on this one, but that's likely my fault, and not David Drake's.
The plot is more complex and intricate than previous entries in the series, but there seemed to be less character development than before, and while the plot mechanics got into motion, there was one aspect of it that was barely touched upon -- which may have been Drake's intent, but I found somewhat frustrating. I was hoping that the invaders' side would be explored to some extent (read too many of Poul Anderson's Flandry stories, I guess), and it wasn't really.
Even so, Another solid entry in a thoroughly enjoyable series.(less)
This is a collection of two novels which tell a single story, Shards Of Honor and Barrayar.
Shards Of Honor is Bujold's first book and, judged in that...moreThis is a collection of two novels which tell a single story, Shards Of Honor and Barrayar.
Shards Of Honor is Bujold's first book and, judged in that light, it's very, very good. Judged against the rest of the Vorkosigan series, however, it comes off less well. The ingredients are there, physical adventure and well-thought out characters bouncing off each other, but they don't jell the way they do even in Bujold's second book, The Warrior's Apprentice (in the Young Miles omnibus).
Cordelia Naismith is the captain of a scientific survey mission from Beta Colony, studying a planet discovered in a new node in the wormhole nexus (Bujold's wonderfully 1980s means of bypassing the speed of light). Very quickly, she finds her crew slaughtered and herself prisoner of a soldier from Barrayar, a militarist, feudal planet that was isolated from galactic civilization for hundreds of years, only rejoined in the past century or so. And not just any soldier, either. Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, the Butcher of Komarr. At first she fears him due to his reputation. But as they are thrown together, more or less alone (he's been betrayed by some of his soldiers, and the rest believe him dead), she comes to judge him as a good, even noble, man -- in spite of his own judgement that his reputation is at least somewhat deserved.
(An aside: The single most unbelievable aspect of the book, to me, is the notion that Cordelia views herself as unattractive. She is tall, red-headed, and her features are described at least once as "handsome" by another, I believe. Also, she's a scientist and a leader of men, strong in character. Clearly, this is some strange new definition of "unattractive" of which I was previously unaware.)
For some reason I've never been able to identify, I always enjoy Shards Of Honor a great deal while reading it, and then the enjoyment fades sharply after I finish it. So it's three, maybe four stars if I'm being generous.
Barrayar, on the other hand, needs no generosity. It kicks unholy ass. :)
Continuing Cordelia's story almost immediately after Shards (it picks up a day or two after the closing scenes of the earlier book), but written more than a half-dozen books (and two Hugos and two Nebulas) later, Bujold's firing on all cylinders in this one.
Aral and Cordelia are married, Cordelia's newly pregnant, and Aral is Regent of the Barrayaran Empire (for complicated reasons demonstrated in the earlier book). However, there are forces in Barrayaran society that do not appreciate the path events are taking, and they blame the Regent. Before the book is half over, a violent coup is in progress, and Cordelia and Aral are on the run again, this time separately -- Aral must plot a counterstrike, while Cordelia tries to keep the five year old Emperor hidden and alive.
It's brilliant, completely entertaining, exciting, and only gets better on rereading. Five stars. It's so good that I'm giving the whole omnibus five stars, rather than averaging the scores together.
(I was purposely vague, even refraining from spoiling things that would not have been considered spoilers to fans of the series when the book came out. I'm funny that way.)(less)
This is a collection, so I should break down my rating.
"A Logic Named Joe" ***** Murray Leinster not only predicted the internet, Google, and Amazon wi...moreThis is a collection, so I should break down my rating.
"A Logic Named Joe" ***** Murray Leinster not only predicted the internet, Google, and Amazon with remarkable accuracy in 1946, he did it in a hilarious story that also examined what an AI with a sense of humor but no desire to be sociable might mean in our world.
"Dear Charles" **1/2 Frankly, I read this story more than 6 months ago, and do not recall it. But I don't recall hating it, either, so it gets a gentleman's C.
Gateway to Elsewhere *** A delightful piece of alternate history, science fantasy fluff. A man comes into possession of an odd coin minted in a country that never existed, and uses it to get himself there. Turns out to be a land of genies and maidens, and while the genies have powers, they are bound by certain physical laws. For instance, a genie can talk any shape, of any size, but always retains the same mass. Fluff, but good fun.
The Duplicators**** Golden Age SF in the grand style, and a delightful exploration of economics, without ever seeming to be so. Link Denham, a ne'er-do-well, finds himself on a planet with Star Trek-ish duplicator technology -- and it's the worst thing that could possibly have happened. The planet has had duplicators for hundreds of years, and has lost all knowledge of how to actually make things because of it. Why farm when you can just duplicate food without any effort? Denham sees very quickly that letting such technology get out to the rest of the galaxy would destroy civilization as we know it, and sets to work neutralizing (but not destroying) the menace. An entirely entertaining romp, with more food for thought than one would expect, and keener understanding of how economics works than you get from any ten writers today. (And I haven't even mentioned the Uffts, the planet's native race!)
"The Fourth Dimensional Demonstrator" * The only clunker in the collection. Strains entirely too hard to be fun, and makes no sense at all. Literally none.
The Pirates of Zan **** Another brilliant example of economics in SFnal form, as well as some interesting sociological explanation. But that makes it sound boring, and it's anything but. Bron Hoddan was born and raised on the pirate planet of Zan, but left because the pirate life was boring and restrictive. Boring because in any year, there is only about 30 seconds of excitement, and restrictive because everyone on the planet has to appear (and, in fact, to be) poor and simple to avoid getting hanged for piracy. He goes to Walden, the most civilized planet in the galaxy, and gets himself arrested and sentenced to life in prison for using his brains. Escaping local authorities, he gains diplomatic protection at the Interstellar Embassy for political persecution, and goes on from there to, eventually, deciding that piracy -- of a sort -- might be just what the civilized planets need. This one is laugh-out-loud funny, non-stop entertaining, and a fine example of "the good old stuff". Bron Hoddan, I think, would have gotten along rather well with Ragnar Danneskjold, though they'd probably bicker a bit.
So, two excellent short novels, one very good short novel, one all-time classic short story, one inoffensive short, and one clunker of a short, adds up to an entirely worthwhile reading experience.
[This review is copyright 2012 by D. Jason Fleming and available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.](less)
I believe this is Williamson's first novel. And if so, wow.
The plot structure is very Heinleinian --- which is to say, it (mostly) does not seem to be...moreI believe this is Williamson's first novel. And if so, wow.
The plot structure is very Heinleinian --- which is to say, it (mostly) does not seem to be structured at all beyond "one damned thing after another", and the type of story being told changes and shifts more than once during the story. It does not seem structured, but it is. The first half or so of the narrative is a picaresque, showing the reader the society that Williamson has created in Freehold. Then it becomes something altogether different.
The story follows Kendra Pacelli, an Earth native who begins the story as a logistics technician in the United Nations peacekeeping forces --- Earth's military. Very quickly (very quickly --- even as the setting is just being established) she comes under suspicion (falsely, of course) of using her position to line her pockets by selling military equipment on the black market. With a little luck, and some fast thinking, she evades arrest and makes her way into the embassy of the Freehold of Grainne, requesting political asylum.
In that very brief setup --- seriously, it's the first chapter --- Williamson manages to imply through a few well-chosen details just what sort of society Earth has become in the centuries between now and his story (revealed only toward the end to be roughly 2500 AD). This is another way in which he was clearly (and positively) influenced by Heinlein --- he weaves the background details into the narrative mostly through implication, but the reader feels certain of those implications.
So, Kendra escapes Earth, gets to Freehold, and the first half of the book is essentially the Utopian Tour, except that, as free and libertarian and capitalist as Grainne is, it's not some Platonic ideal. There are still rotten people, bad things can certainly happen. It's just that, under freedom and capitalism, things suck a lot less than under any other system.
Then, as stated, about halfway through, the narrative jumps gears and becomes something other than a libertarian fantasy. And thereafter it shifts another time or two. And none of these shifts is jarring*, unnatural, unforeshadowed, or off-putting. Again, the plotting is Heinleinian.
*(There are one or two that are intentionally jarring and left me going "ooooooh sh*t!"; there is none that yanked me out of the narrative thinking, "Yeah, right!")
As for flaws, there aren't many. Kendra Pacelli struck me as perhaps not the strongest characterization ever committed to paper. But then, she's got to be a character as well as a reader surrogate, and Williamson errs a little on the side of the surrogate, leaving her a bit bland through much of the story. That's more than made up for by the fact that the climax of the story had me sniffling and complaining that I must have something in my eye. Which, through most of the book, had not occurred to me as even a possibility.
All in all, this book kicks ass and left me wanting more. A lot more. Highly recommended.(less)