Darth Vader and Son is a delightful and clever children’s comic book that is well conceived and worthwhile entertainment for children and adults alike...moreDarth Vader and Son is a delightful and clever children’s comic book that is well conceived and worthwhile entertainment for children and adults alike.
Set up as a series of illustrated tableaus from the life of a Darth Vader who, instead of learning only mid-way through Empire Strikes Back that Luke Skywalker is his son, is the single father of a four-year old Luke (featuring a cameo from the other Skywalker twin, Leia–oops! Spoiler alert! Luke and Leia are siblings!), the book opens with a title page that spoofs the flowing titles and prologue that we’ve come to know as the standard opening of George Lucas’ blockbuster Star Wars films.
Each page is a colorfully drawn picture, scenes that every Star Wars fan will recognize. Brown’s art is simple, focusing on depicting the setting with only minor changes from the original. Rather, his wry drawings are just enough to both satirize and shed a humorous light on otherwise serious and pivotal scenes. The conversation between Darth Vader and the Emperor by holographic transmission is interrupted by a nattering Luke. In another, Luke trick or treats in the costume of a Storm Trooper while Mon Mothma asks “Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?”
The Prequel Trilogy doesn’t escape Brown’s jabs either, especially Jar Jar Binks. “That’s not the toy you’re looking for,” says a hand waving Vader. “Yes, it is,” replies young Luke, proving he is not among the weak-minded. It’s a sly commentary on the generational split in opinions about the first and second Star Wars trilogies.
While each scene pokes fun at Star Wars, it is without malice or mockery. Rather, it is tongue-in-cheek and by the hand of someone who clearly loves Star Wars. Brown knows that Han shot first, that children keep adults grounded and from taking ourselves too seriously, and recognizes that all the things we older Star Wars fans hate are the same things that kids love, from Ewoks to JarJar Binks.
As I flipped the pages, I chuckled, smiled, and laughed. Then my five-year old saw the book sitting on my bed stand, and she laughed, too. She wouldn’t put the book down after I finished it, and it isn’t for lack of other books to read. After she fell asleep, I found the book under her arm, and this afternoon she informed me that it would be accompanying her to school for ‘show and tell’ tomorrow.
If it can make my daughter laugh as much as it does me, it will be a great addition to our shelves.
Article first published as Graphic Novel Review: ‘Darth Vader and Son’ by Jeffrey Brown on Blogcritics.org.(less)
Finding an interesting, new author is a fantastic experience, like discovering a new favorite restaurant or traveling to a place you’ve never been bef...moreFinding an interesting, new author is a fantastic experience, like discovering a new favorite restaurant or traveling to a place you’ve never been before. It is full of exploration, of discovery, and the refreshing feel of something new and fresh.
Imagine, then, what it’s like to find one book with 12 interesting new authors, all at once. It’s exactly what you get with Writers of the Future Volume 29. As a collection of the fiction, it’s a cornucopia of clever tales and excellent writing, and you won’t even need to buy 12 different books to enjoy each author.
Perhaps only slightly hyperbolically, the cover says that the stories “show us who we are, what we may become, and how far we can go.” Indeed, the stories may be more imaginative than predictive, but it does nothing to diminish their ability to convey the reader away from the ordinary and to lands and worlds unbounded by time or physics. And, eschewing the cliches even as it embraces them, the stories prove that science fiction and its close cousin fantasy are just as much about people and relationships as spaceships and magic.
The Writers of the Future contest is unique among collections of short stories. Where others focus on a topic, share a single author, or even share the same imaginary world, the commonality between tales in Writers of the Future Volume 29 is in their selection by a panel of judges comprised of the who’s who of science fiction and fantasy authors and headed by Dave Wolverton. Authors submit their work to the panel and their submissions are reviewed blind.
In other words, the only commonality is the genre and the high level of writing. Only the best selections win, and it shows. Each tale is carefully crafted, from “cut to the chase” openings that thrust the reader right in the middle of the action, to heart breaking conclusions that both satisfy and leave you wanting more. In addition to the tales, the contest features art from the parallel contest for art, as well as essays on writing by L.Ron Hubbard, Dave Wolverton, and others.
One of my favorite s was “Planetary Scouts” by Stephen Sottong. In the far future, he writes, technology has taken humanity to the stars, but only to confront the harsh reality that many of the planets we might colonize are already occupied, often by forms of life not welcoming to our exploration.
Another exciting tale by Brian Trent is “Hero,” a fast paced story about a young man who must face his nemesis not once, but twice, in a revolution that sweeps the peaks of Mars.
“Dreameater” by Andrea Stewart is a clever and horrifying story about a girl coming to grip with the terrible legacy that may become her future.
And there are more. Writers of the Future Volume 29 is replete with great writing and good stories. If you want a bead on tomorrows great writers, this is the place to start reading.
Review first published as "Book Review: ‘Writers of the Future Volume 29′ edited by Dave Wolverton" on Blogcritics.org.(less)
Steelheart, first in the Reckoners series, may have the broadest appeal of Brandon Sanderson's growing variety of imaginary worlds. At a time when Mar...moreSteelheart, first in the Reckoners series, may have the broadest appeal of Brandon Sanderson's growing variety of imaginary worlds. At a time when Marvel and DC turnout multiple blockbusters at the movie theater each year--think The Avengers, Iron Man, the Dark Knight, and Man of Steel--interest in superheroes is at an all time high and Sanderson's look at the dark potential of superpowered humans is a timely and relevant addition to the genre. For a guy who kicked of his career with epic fantasy, it also shows the breadth of his imagination and flexibility.
Rather than swords and sorcery, Sanderson's premise is flight and telekinesis, invisibility and fire. What if the supernatural powers of Superman, the Flash, and Captain America didn't just make them more than human, but also corrupted them, too?
For a genre that has always been willing to show the light and the dark sides of human nature, compounded exponentially by the bright and dark natures of the heroes and villains holding those powers, it's not an entirely new look, but it does take a new spin. Any reader of comic books knows that almost every superhero is just as likely to take a turn to the dark side, but only in Sanderson's world does that actual endowment of superpowers nearly guarantee that the turn will happen. Power corrupts, Sanderson says, quoting Lord Acton, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sanderson's super-powered humans--or Epics--are power hungry and evil, killing and taking at whim.
How does humanity survive?
Told from the perspective of David, a normal human who at the outset of the story accidentally witnesses one of the nascent superheroes, Steelheart--of whom his description of superpowers it eerily similar to the better known "Man of Steel," Superman--Steelheart is about the quest to find a way to defeat the villainous super-powered humans that have carved out fiefdoms for themselves across America (and presumably the rest of the world). David is obsessed with understanding each Epic, charting their powers, their weaknesses, and more as he plots his revenge against Steelheart for the death of his father.
Conceived in 2007 when Sanderson was still a newly published author, Steelheart may be recognition by his publisher that he has a platform and an audience that will buy Sanderson's books, almost no matter what he writes. This isn't to say that Steelheart is not good, or that it would not have been published otherwise, but it is a step outside of Brandon's brand of epic fantasy, a bit more young adult than Elantris, Warbreaker, or the Mistborn series, and far more comic book than anything else Sanderson has yet produced.
In that sense, I see in Steelheart the most potential of any of Sanderson's own works (I'm not including the Wheel of Time since I consider that to be Robert Jordan's creative genius to which Sanderson added his considerable writing ability). The story, set in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian Chicago (Newcago, Sanderson's renames it), featuring day-after-tomorrow weapons and technology, capped supervillains, and a cast of colorfully written characters, would translate well into film or television. Videogames could be easy to add to the brand, as well.
All good ideas aside, though, I wish Sanderson had spent just a little more time with the novel. The plot feels rushed and the relationships only superficially developed. When David meets Megan, about the most we learn about his attraction to her is about how she looks in a short, red dress and her ability to shoot a gun. I'm no stranger to the attraction of a woman in a short skirt (cue up Cake's Short Skirt, Long Jacket please), but the depth of the relationship and David's motives never really deepen much more. I suspect that this is in large part because Sanderson is writing for a young adult audience, but age has never been a reason to short-thrift the young. Gary D. Schmidt's Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now prove that you don't need to be superficial or shallow, nor do you have to treat them like they can't understand human nature. Granted, we're reading about superheroes here, and maybe my expectations are too high, but the driving force of the conflict is David's relationships, and Sanderson's handling feels rushed.
That said, Sanderson executes the premise almost flawlessly. His Epics are epic villains, his plotting is careful, and the final twist is a satisfying moment for the triumph of good--real good, not just the 'good guy'--over evil. Borrow or buy, Steelheart is a welcome addition to the fast growing Sanderson collection, one that you should read soon. (less)
Buy it, put it by your bed, or desk, or chair, or couch, or where ever you like to read, and then read it.
But don't read it straight through. Stop at the end of each story, set your head back on your pillow/headrest/cushion/ground and enjoy the warm sense of wonder that Rejiggering the Thingamajig and Other Stories will bring as it alights on your imagination, bringing a smile to your face and an eagerness to turn the page and find what is awaiting in the next story.
Eric James Stone is revelation, his writing full of the fantastic, wonderful, and imaginative world that marks what science fiction ought to be. Along with a delightful and surprising sense of humor, a cleverness for unexpected plot twists, and a taste for the quirks of human nature, Stone's collection is an utterly enjoyable romp through a mind that is ever interested in the world we live in and the worlds we might create.
In short, it is wonderful writing.
In the title story, Rejiggering the Thingamajig, our unlikely hero is a genetically modified tyrannosaurus rex, stranded from her unborn across the vast reach of space and thrust into the role of galactic savior.
Another, the Six Billion Dollar Colon, echoes both Stone's experience working for members of Congress and predicts the drama of vast, sweeping healthcare legislation...with a twist.
The short, one page Buy You a Mockingbird is poignant as it is parsimonious, showing a talent for language and story-telling in only an incredibly short space. Just a bit longer, but every bit as humorous as Buy You a Mockingbird is sad, Accounting for Dragons will leave anyone who has ever filed their own taxes smiling.
In a twist, The Robot Sorcerer mashes science fiction and fantasy, suggesting that the lines between the genres need not be as thick as we treat them. Or maybe they are already thin?
And there are more, many more. I found Stone's stories brilliant and refreshing. Unique, also, is Stone's willingness to address religion, including his own--he is Latter-day Saint--without knocking it, but as a rational examination of how people and faith might be affected by science and fantasy. Tabloid Reporter to the Stars takes man across the galaxy and asks: what if we were alien life to another planet, and what if we found out we were not the first of our kind to arrive? Whose religion would be proven or destroyed? The Ashes of His Fathers provides the opportunity for an unfaithful descendant of saints to find redemption, drawing inspiration from Thomas Babington Macaulay's "Horatius." Loophole is about a young woman taking her new husband, a Mormon, home to meet her "demonic" family. And That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made examines Mormon missionary zeal among extraterrestrial sun dwellers with some unexpected results.
In short, Stone's imagination seems to know no bounds, and his writing proves to be a powerful tool to tell his stories. I bumped into him at Salt Lake Comic Con where he was sitting on panel about the Writers of the Future contest, which he has won, alongside David Farland and Brad R. Torgersen, two other brilliant writers. He was billed, by Torgersen, as one of the best short story writers working, and, IMHO, he fits the ticket well.
So what are you waiting for? Buy it already!(less)
Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management, and its author Howard Tayler, is unlike anything I've ever read before.
Wait--hold that thought. It's not comp...moreSchlock Mercenary: Under New Management, and its author Howard Tayler, is unlike anything I've ever read before.
Wait--hold that thought. It's not completely true. Yes, it's unique, a veritable cornucopia of creative energy and humor, entertaining and--dare I say?--educational at the same time.
But it is also reminiscent, in so many happy ways, of the late Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The setting is space, the humor is satirical, and the plot twists are absurd and unexpected. And yet, like Adams, Tayler makes ample use of big numbers and real science to make his comic more than fluff.
Indeed, if Adams were alive, I think he'd have little problem plugging Arthur Dent into one of Tayler's panels, alongside Ford, Zaphod, Trillian, and all the others...
But enough about Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide. This is about Schlock Mercenary.
Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management is the first print collection of Tayler's webcomic Schlock Mercenary. The story of a semi-disciplined band of mercenaries but ostensibly about Sergeant Schlock, who really just wants to "hurt people and break things" and will warm up his plasma cannon at any excuses, this installment includes extensive annotations (which left me wondering if Tayler was tricking me into learning something about science, space, physics...yeah, seriously. I was laughing and learning about science at the same time) and an origin story about Schlock (and don't ask me exactly what Schlock is. Apparently, he's all but indestructible, not to mention as malleable as Gumby).
I've long listened to Tayler on the Writing Excuses podcast ("It's all about eyebrows," says Tayler) that he does with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Mary Robinette Kowal (and for which they won a Hugo this year...a Hugo!), and I felt lucky when was able to track him down at the Salt Lake Comic Con. He's about as cool as anyone I met there and was glad to pose (and I do mean pose--the guy just doesn't take himself serious, which is refreshing) for a photo.
I'm not much of a comics guy, but I'll keep reading Schlock Mercenary. The story telling is solid, the jokes are clean and clever, and the creativity is refreshing. It's enough to make a fan out of me.(less)
Finding Lights in the Deep was one of those happy accidents that leads to lost sleep and happy day dreams.
Nominee for the Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell a...moreFinding Lights in the Deep was one of those happy accidents that leads to lost sleep and happy day dreams.
Nominee for the Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell awards and winner of the 2010 Writers of the Future award, Brad R. Torgersen is one of the newest authors to join the ranks of published science fiction, and when he makes it big, I want the record to reflect that I was among the first to tout his writing, at least in the fan world. I first met him after a writers’ panel on Salt Lake Comic Con’s first day. Impressed, I brought home a copy of his just recently published Lights in the Deep. His writing was absorbing, and I found myself transported by his fantastic vision of space exploration, war with aliens, and survival on the ocean’s bottom.
In many ways, Torgersen’s is the kind of writing is exactly the reason I loved reading science fiction by greats like Robert Heinlein and Larry Niven when I was growing up. Their science fiction paints a view of humanity that was hopeful and optimistic, even while acknowledging our shortcomings and weaknesses. More, the settings for his stories find inspiration in a time when the Apollo missions to the moon were still the height of the human technological endeavour, but without feeling in anyway anachronistic. Rather, his view is hopeful, putting human potential for good back at the center of science fiction.
On a personal note, Torgersen is a good and generous person, and that alone should inspire you to go buy Lights in the Deep (and today!) to help him get the notice he needs. Not long after I listened in on a panel he sat on, I hunted him down on the convention floor where he was sharing a booth with the legendary Kevin Anderson (and that Anderson would let share a booth should say worlds about Brad). Not only was he willing to talk about his experience becoming a published writer, but he was encouraging and optimistic about my own tentative admission of writing ambition.
Lights in the Deep will take you to the moon (several times), past the orbits of the planets, and far out into the universe, as well as back to Earth and the depths of the ocean. It’s a wonderful read, and I can’t wait to pick up Torgersen’s first novel (not counting the collaboration he’s doing with Larry Niven later this year), The Chaplain’s War when Baen releases it next October. (less)
Let's be completely honest: we all pick up books for various reasons. A recommendation from a trusted friend. It was up front i...moreLife is just too short.
Let's be completely honest: we all pick up books for various reasons. A recommendation from a trusted friend. It was up front in the airport bookshop. Written by a favorite author. A great cover.
I picked up Psychoshop because it was written by Alfred Bester. I was at Powell's in Portland, and it seemed like a good find. A classic author, a previously unread title, and a giant bookstore.
A win, right?
Perhaps for some. For me, time is too precious and life is too short.
Psychoshop was left unfinished by Bester on his death and was finished by Roger Zelazny, another classic science fiction writer. Comparing the work to a jazz duet, Greg Bear says in an introduction that the book is "Brisk, fast, memorable, a rare improvisational duet from two of our best[,]" but to be honest, I just couldn't get through it. As creative as it is, and it is, I just found it schizophrenic and undefined, a story looking for a conflict to be resolved. (less)
Reading Variant felt like I had jumped into a toboggan on a tall, snow covered hill, pushed off, and sped down it at breakneck speed, dodging trees an...moreReading Variant felt like I had jumped into a toboggan on a tall, snow covered hill, pushed off, and sped down it at breakneck speed, dodging trees and bushes. Only when I slammed into a rock under the snow at the bottom of the hill was I able to look back and see everything that I had flown through on my haphazard journey.
In other words, Variant is quite a fast ride.
Benson Fisher is a foster child who thinks he's found a way out of the system. Not unlike Bron from David Farland's Nightingale, he's above average, enjoys learning, and has proved himself to be enough of an achiever to obtain a scholarship to an elite private school in the backwoods of New Mexico.
When he is unceremoniously dropped off at the school, it's immediately clear that something isn't right. Fisher soon realizes that there are no teachers and that breaking the rules could mean death. And that's all on day one.
Robison Wells moves the story at a breakneck pace, and it's hard to fault him for creating a thrilling story that pulls the reader in and speeds them along. It's a page turner that's well suited to young adults and teens. Written in the first person, it has an urgency that will keep teens satisfied and reaching for the sequel, Feedback.
And yet, as exciting as the Variant plot is, sometimes it felt like the pace got in the way of the character development. While we get to know Fisher more than most (after all, it is his perspective we're reading from), the majority of the cast seems to be stuck in time. Wells does a good job of filling in details sufficient to give them color and personality, but it's hard to see them as three dimensional.
Perhaps this fits, though. Variant is owes as much to thrillers as it does to the Twilight Zone, though, and readers might not require the level of depth that other young adult novels might provide. After all, Fisher is more concerned with staying alive and escaping than he is with all that a teenager might deal with growing up, especially one who has spent much of his life in foster care.
That's biggest rub for me. I'm not one generally inclined to an overabundance of feelings, emotions or drama--I've never been able to stomach a Stephenie Meyer novel, for instance--but I do want the protagonist to be credible and sympathetic. It's hard not to be sympathetic with Fisher who comes across as a typical teenager who enjoys the same movies and activities that any teen would enjoy. However, it's also hard to believe that a life lived in foster care would not affect him more than it appears to have. (And how does a foster kid from Pennsylvania get to New Mexico? There's no way the state of Pennsylvania would have let a ward of the state leave the state by himself).
It's a good read, though, and I won't complain too much. Wells kept me turning pages, and I suspect this would make a great movie. Pick it up, and enjoy an evening lost turning pages.(less)
Pete, one of the Six, lives in the completely enclosed and environmentally controlled "Shell" in the year 2035. They are descendents of the few remaining survivors on Earth of a catastrophic alien attack decades before. Kept alive by the grace of the aliens--the Tesslies--Pete and his fellow survivors jump back to the past to rescue individual children, hoping somehow to overcome their captors and restart life again on the planet.
Meanwhile, Julie Kahn is a mathematician and contractor for the FBI helping to hunt down a mysterious crime spree that follows the outcomes of her algorithm. Each event brings her closer to a conclusion she may not be ready to accept.
Skipping between three timelines, the story quickly builds to a crescendo. Kress uses the absence of information as a tool to build mystery and suspense, creating a palpable sense of the ominous. Given how short the book is--a novella, by definition--it was easy to blow through it in just one sitting.
At this point, the book blogger code of ethics demands that I warn you that spoilers follow...or at least, information that could lead you to spoilers.
Despite Kress' excellent writing, I struggled with her resolution. (view spoiler)[Rather than explain anything, it has the effect of deus ex machina, except that we have no idea where the ex machina emerges from. The twist--oh, yes, there is a twist, but if you're still reading this, don't say I didn't warn you--has no explanation in reality or science fiction. It just happens. We never learn how or from whence it came...it just happens. And the major plot device--a time machine, robots, aliens, tidal waives, volcanos--none of it makes sense in the context of what Kress has promised the reader. (hide spoiler)] If Kress had made angels appear and bring a message from God, it would have made more sense than the strange plot device she used.
Ultimately, for that reason, I finished After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall with a feeling of betrayal, disappointment, and like I had just had (view spoiler)[a heavy handed message about the environment stuffed down my throat. I might even have been ok with the message, if Kress had seemed like, just for a moment, she would justify it by some sort of explanation. As it was, though, her story amounts to no more than wishful thinking that might shift this book more into the fantasy genre than science fiction (hide spoiler)]. It's good writing, but in the balance is a disappointing story.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Thomas is a blank slate. He remembers nothing but his name. Awakening in a pitch black room to the background noise of machinery and the smell of oil,...moreThomas is a blank slate. He remembers nothing but his name. Awakening in a pitch black room to the background noise of machinery and the smell of oil, he soon finds himself the newest in a "Lord of the Flies" like community of boys who live in what they call the "Glade" at the center of a giant maze.
Each day, when giant doors to the maze open, runners go out into the maze to explore, looking for a way back to a world that none of them remember. At night, monsters stalk the maze, hunting the boys who do not return in time.
With Thomas' arrival in the Glade, things begin to change, and when a girl arrives the next day--the first girl--things begin to look scary in earnest.
The fight to survive the maze, and to escape, is on.
I listened to The Maze Runner (Book 1) with my Better-Half on a road trip, and we are of two minds about what we thought of the book. I don't know if it's because I'm a guy and she's...not, but we both walked away from the car, and the story, with different perspectives. I really enjoyed it, and she, well, almost really enjoyed it.
Right off the bat, I was hooked by James Dashner's opening. It's rarely a good idea to start a book off with no context, but that's exactly what Dashner does, and for his story it works very well. Usually a reader wants to know within just a few paragraphs where and when they are, what's going on. Instead, all Dashner tells us on the opening pages is a name "Thomas" and an elevator (and a pitch black one at that). That's it. Even when Thomas arrives at the Glade, no one seems willing, or even able, to provide information. The questions seem to multiply even faster than the answers, and it pushes the story along from one cliffhanger to the next. I felt lucky that we were trapped in the car for a long, ten hour stretch, because I didn't want to stop listening.
If there is one critique that I might agree with my Better-Half about, it's that Dashner tends to over-describe what's going on in his characters minds. While this could be chalked up to him catering to his audience--teen boys, I think--I wonder if readers could do just as well gleaning from the contextual clues what's going on between the characters. I mean, when one guy is described as yelling with an angry look on his face, we get that he's angry. It's a small critique, though; I only noticed it because my Better-Half pointed it out.
In any respect, I enjoyed the book and the surprise ending both satisfied and whet my appetite for more. It's one of those books where I give it three and a half stars (out of five) overall, but a full five stars for plot intensity. I mean, look: I went out and bought the next book in the series at a bookstore along the route we were driving just because I knew I was going to want to read it.
The Maze Runner is a fast, intense and exciting mystery. I can't wait to find out what Dashner does with Thomas and the others from the Glade in happens next in the sequel, The Scorch Trials.(less)
Thousands of year before the Jedi were the guardians of peace throughout the galaxy, they were the Je’daii, a caste of warrior monks based on the plan...moreThousands of year before the Jedi were the guardians of peace throughout the galaxy, they were the Je’daii, a caste of warrior monks based on the planet Tython and confined to just one solar system. Not unlike Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, they roamed the system, keeping order among the disparate peoples that call the Tython System home.
Lanoree is a Je’daii Ranger, preferring the quiet of the stars and the meaning of serving a greater cause than herself, but when she is called in by the Je’daii Council to investigate a fanatical cult that appears to have ties to her long believed dead brother, she finds her peace shattered. The quest to hunt down her brother, and stop him from making a terrible mistake, will take Lanoree through the underworld and into the homes of the wealthy and will force her to evaluate who is a friend and who is a foe.
So, naturally, it's a fun read. Tim Lebbon follows the tried and true method of wisking his heroes from one exotic locale to another, and each time the danger heightens and the plot thickens. I especially liked his careful character development of Lanoree and her brother, Dal, as they rise from young initiates to separate paths as they develop their abilities in the Force.
Because this is also very early in the history of the Jedi, Into the Void is as much an origin story for the Jedi as it is for Lanoree. We get to see how the Force, and the Je’daii/Jedi philosophy of the Force, began. It is not a light side/dark side type of a thing, especially since the story happens long before the Sith rise, but rather effective use of the Force is about balance between the opposing halves, not unlike ying and yang of eastern philosophy. Further, we also get glimpses into the deep past to the discovery of the Force, the real origin of it all.
Into the Void is an interesting story, but it struggles to bring in the reader. Lebbon structures the tale in the present but intersperses it with flashbacks. It allows the reader to stay in suspense about the relationship between Lanoree and Dal, but interrupts the story flow, not allowing the reader to really get into either plot with much depth before being yanked out of it and sent into another flashback. As a result, I felt like I was almost a quarter through the book before I was interested in the story. It just took too long to get going with repeated, long flashbacks in the midst of the emerging action.
With all the build up and effort to develop Lanoree's relationship with Dal, I found the ending to be climatic, but somewhat disappointing. I agree that a story should end as fast as feasible after the central problem is resolved, but the book ended so fast that I found myself wondering about unresolved questions that had emerged along the way.
Into the Void is an interesting and creative look at the Dawn of the Jedi, and I think that Star Wars fans, among which I count myself, will find it a useful addition to the canon.(less)
Have I got a treat for you, the cure to your mid-summer doldrums.
With Abaddon's Gate, James S.A. Corey brings to a conclusion the epic space opera ser...moreHave I got a treat for you, the cure to your mid-summer doldrums.
With Abaddon's Gate, James S.A. Corey brings to a conclusion the epic space opera series The Expanse with a bang that can only be described as explosive, even if it does have slow fuse to put all the pieces in place with an explosive and satisfying conclusion.
And it's all in the name.
If you Google the word "Abaddon," you'll find that it is a Hebraic word that refers to a place of destruction. In the New Testament Book of Revelation, it is the name given to an angel who is shown as the king of an army of locusts, even being variously translated as exterminator or destroyer.
While I figured that out long before it mattered, I was still surprised at how accurate a description it was. But I'll leave it at that to avoid spoilers. Let me just say that if something can go wrong for our heroes, it does. Over and over again.
In a future time where humanity has spilled out across the solar system, colonizing Mars, the moons of the gas giants, and the asteroid ring, an alien threat has appeared from beyond the stars. In Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War we saw the protomolecule break life down to its building blocks, defy the laws of physics and of nature, and create advanced technology in under the poisonous Venusian skies. Now it has launched a giant ring into orbit past Uranus, and a flotilla of all the nations of man are flying out to investigate it.
And so is Jim Holden. Our everyman hero, long tired of his days of "saving the solar system" and humanity, from itself and from the protomolecule, is planning on putting himself as far away from the ring as possible. Unfortunately for him, and his crew on the Rocinante, someone has other plans for him and once more he'll find himself at the center of the action again, to be hated, to be love, and perhaps to stand at the crossroads of humanities future.
If you enjoyed the Hugo nominated Leviathan Wakes, you should be wasting no time in picking up a copy of Abaddon's Gate. More than just a flimsy piece of space opera, Corey (the pen name of co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) has weaved the story through with hope and revenge, fall and redemption against a backdrop of space battles, alien civilizations, and zero gravity shoot-outs. There's a little of everything for everyone.
If I have any gripes about the book, it's that it takes a while to put all the pieces in place to start the action. For that reason, the pacing occasionally seems to suffer from starts and stops that throw off the flow. Further, so much time is spent developing certain characters motivation for revenge, that I struggled when they seemed to suddenly slip from villain to hero. It's a credible shift, in the balance, but could have been more carefully developed.
I liked Abaddon's Gate, and like its predecessors, it's a great book for a warm summer, whether by the pool, under a tree, or on a road trip. I may never land on the moon or experience null gravity, but James S.A. Corey does a great job of making me feel like I have. (less)
All Correia asked is that folks would buy Wolverton's latest book (preferably through a link to Amazon that would maximize Wolverton's take).
Needless to say, I was intrigued. A local author with some renown, his son in need, and climbing medical bills? At the very least, I would help fellow human being in need, discover a new author and pick up a new book. At the most, perhaps it would even be a good book.
Allow me to insert the cliched third person omniscient foreboding here: little did I know what was in store for me.
I guess you could say I'm fully vested. And I haven't even talked about On My Way to Paradise yet, have I?
On My Way to Paradise is Wolverton's first novel, a piece of science-fiction set sometime in the not too distant future, perhaps a century or two down the road. Angelo Osic is a pharmacologist, selling his wares from a roadside kiosk somewhere in Panama when a woman tumbles out of a taxi looking for help and dragging him on an incredible journey across the distance between stars. He will flee assassins, fight for his life, and find himself a mercenary in his eighties.
Unlike so many epic sized stories, I could never tell exactly where Wolverton was taking me, and I liked it. I mean, yes, we were clearly on the way to paradise (or were we?), but Osic never set off on a quest or intentionally seemed to choose his path. As he discovered the next step, so did I, and the process kept me turning pages, not just to discover what would happen next, but even why. Because in his genius, Wolverton never really warns you. One minute Osic is escaping assassins aboard a shuttle to an orbiting station and the next moment he's signing on to serve as a mercenary in a war on a planet twenty years away from Earth. And despite the warning that was on the back of the book ("to sign on as a mercenary with the Japanese Motoki Corporation in its genocidal war against the barbarian Yabajin."), I could clearly say to myself: "I didn't see that coming."
It is, in the true sense, an adventure, not because of the excitement and danger, of which there is plenty, but because of the suspense and plot changes. Things happen, and with every page, they keep happening. Osic is an honest narrator, if only from his perspective, and Wolverton is careful to reveal no more than Osic would based on the moment in time.
On the surface, I could see in Osic's mercenary training and fight, foreshadowing of whatJohn Scalzi would build in Old Man's War. In Wolverton's universe, though, the story is an inverted parabolic fall from grace, where no kind action goes unpunished, where the hero must pass through fire before he finds heaven. Indeed, the entire story is set up as parable, a pilgram's progress perhaps, with Osic playing Dante as he descends to hell on his way to finding redemption.
Even the sections of the book hint at the journey. We begin in "Earth," and when Osic escapes he boards the "Chaeron," named not unlike the Charon of Greek mythology who would ferry the damned across the river Styx into Hell. And the final destination? Baker, an English name for a Japanese planet, perhaps after the California town that is often called the gateway to Death Valley because of its proximity.
So, in each section, we see Osic dragged, almost inexorably so, down deeper to the depths of a personal hell, all the while wondering and seeking redemption and the opportunity to escape the violence for the opportunity to seek compassion.
And the book is violent. Very much so. For a guy who starts off as a pharmacologist because he explicitly wants to help people, Osic develops a violent streak...and the why and wherefore matters, though to say much more would, indeed, prove to give away major spoilers.
Wolverton fills the book with fantastic character development and philosophy, proving once again that good science-fiction isn't about lasers and spaceships (though they certainly don't hurt), but about us, about humanity, and about the big questions. What is agency? What does it mean to live in a society of murderers, Osic asks more than once? What is meaning when everyone is a killer? And what does it mean to be human?
While the world around Osic is fighting over the questions of capitalism versus socialism, the holding to the past and dramatically changing for the future, Wolverton seems to posit that somethings about human nature does not change not matter the excuse or the progression of technology--its capacity for violence as well as for great compassion. I don't often reread novels--there are just too many and my time too limited--but if I ever do, this could be a candidate for rereading. I emphasize that it would be in spite of the violence, because, and I think this is Wolverton's intent, the violence disgusts me.
On My Way to Paradise is "older," so to speak. Published in 1989, it has weathered well, and I don't think there's anything about it to date it. Set in the future, Wolverton's characters are Japanese and Hispanic and, occasionally, Arabic. Other than a brief mention about Europe, I don't think I recall any mention of anything relating to Western European culture, including the United States. Wolverton has shifted the attention to entirely new territory, and it is refreshing and fascinating. (less)
Even if you've never read it, almost every reader know the story of Moby-Dick. Opening with "Call me Ishmael[,]" Hermann Melville's novel is the tale...moreEven if you've never read it, almost every reader know the story of Moby-Dick. Opening with "Call me Ishmael[,]" Hermann Melville's novel is the tale of the white whale and obsessed Captain Ahab's quest to kill it, a hunt that does not end well for anyone. Only Ishmael, the narrator, survives to put the story down, drifting on the coffin of his bunkmate, Queequeg.
And that's where Philip José Farmer begins The Wind Whales of Ishmael. As he floats adrift, Ishmael finds himself falling out of our time and into the future, the far future, landing adrift in a future Earth dramatically different from our own. The oceans have nearly evaporated, life has evolved to the air, and man survives in air balloons hunting the leviathans of the air.
The Wind Whales of Ishmael is an intregeuing and fun story, if a bit dated. I recently read Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars, and I couldn't help but see echoes of John Carter in the Farmer's Ishmael. He arrives in a strange and foreign world, is saved, and saves, a beautiful princess, and soon rises to prominence using his specialized knowledge and skills. The tale is short and exciting, the plot creative and the setting strange and exotic. Ishmael is an every man, a hero that survives and thrive a hundred thousand years in the future.
First published in 1971, Titan Books has put out a new edition of The Wind Whales of Ishmael with a foreword by Michael Croteau and an afterword by Danny Adams.(less)
Unless you want to be entertained, intrigued, and possibly disturbed, do not read this book.
On the other hand, if you enjoy thoughtprovokingshort fict...more
Unless you want to be entertained, intrigued, and possibly disturbed, do not read this book.
On the other hand, if you enjoy thought provoking short fiction, then download a copy of Guy Hasson's The Emoticon Generation today. A collection of short stories that seem to focus on human nature when technology allows us to play with the rules of physics, each is an interesting tale with a twist.
In one we see a controversial national war hero confronted with a technology that in one moment vindicates his version of events while simultaneously forcing him to reconsider history's premise. Another story questions what it means to be human and sentient. A third allows a man to revisit his past, with results that are disturbing.
The stories fascinated and intrigued. I saw echoes of Philip K. Dick or the Twilight Zone in several.
Ironically, the title story was the selection that I struggled with the most. In it, the author poses himself as a journalist who becomes interested in the effect of emoticons on rising generations. Satirically, it wonders if too many words are unnecessary, and if we can communicate meaning just as well, if not better, with smiley faces. Then, in just a couple of paragraphs, the author concludes that, no, it is the power of language that has allow great engineering feats, Shakespeare, and the progress of the human race, and the failure of language presages our decline. I laud Hasson for writing so convincing that I almost thought he was serious--until the last few paragraphs--but I felt cheated that he didn't respond to his own arguments. On the other hand, it is perhaps a tribute to his ability to satirize emoticons that his arguments for simpler language were so simple and sarcastic that response is perhaps unnecessary.
If creativity, an eye for human nature, and insight are strengths Hasson's stories can rely upon, an editor might be the single thing to improve them. While some stories clearly showed sharp and efficient use of language, others rambled beyond when Hasson had made his point.
As I opened with, go pick up a copy of The Emoticon Generationfor your ereader. If Hasson's stories don't make you think, then you may not be paying attention.
Good science fiction does two things well: first, it blows your mind. And second, it's less about the science than it is about the story, about the ch...moreGood science fiction does two things well: first, it blows your mind. And second, it's less about the science than it is about the story, about the characters, and the conflict. In other words, it's good literature that just happens to have a scientific element...even if loosely.
Sean Ferrell's Man in the Empty Suit accomplishes both of these and accomplishes them well. The plot starts no earlier than necessary, wastes no time with excess details (including the main character's name), and plows on through to an ending which both answers, and opens, questions in the same breath.
As a work of science fiction, Man in the Empty Suit takes the route of ignoring how time travel works and focuses instead on the consequences of it. The result is a character study that is almost as interesting as the problem the character encounters: how does he solve his own death with the help of no more than clues and hints by a bunch of paranoid versions of his future self?
It's intriguing, and well executed, to boot. I have two reasons I don't like the book more, the first character related and the second more due to pacing. First, I found it difficult to sympathize with the protagonist, someone I can't quite call selfish, but neither is he admirable.
The character of the time traveler aside, the book's pacing lulls in the middle, and picks up again to a breakneck pace at the end, more than compensating for the lull. In retrospect, the slower pacing in the middle makes sense, but as I read I felt like it dragged.
Ironically, Dick lived his live in near poverty. As an homage to his influence, the Library of America included Dick in their "quasi-official national canon" in 2007, the first science-fiction writer to be included.
I was introduced to Dick through his movies and later picked up the novels and short stories they were based on. In contrast to much of what is classified as science-fiction, Dick's stories and novels focus on human nature and the effect of technology and science on our character and relationships.
The Crack in Space, written in 1966, tackles parallel universes, time travel, gaps in the time-space continuum, and, to make things interesting, racism.
Compared to some of his other novels, The Crack in Space is not the most exciting tale in the Philip K. Dick canon. In addition to a parallel universe, it weaves in the candidacy of a America's first black presidency. That's not so controversial now, but writing in the 1960s, during the civil rights movement, Dick was predicting what was then almost impossible to conceive. Other issues addressed include population growth and control, scarce resources, and the morality of sexual promiscuity. The story is interesting, if a bit dated. It''s a worthy, if not gripping, read for a quiet weekend.(less)
Few novels I have read recently have made me stop and think, reexamine my world, quite the same way that Cory Doctorow's Little Brother does. Although...moreFew novels I have read recently have made me stop and think, reexamine my world, quite the same way that Cory Doctorow's Little Brother does. Although published five years back when the politics of the Bush Administration and the post-9/11 expansion of government surveillance were still fresh in our minds, I found the novel fresh and relevant.
One part thriller and two parts geek, Little Brother opens on a group of high school kids who play hooky from school to participate in a treasure hunt. They are caught up in the aftermath of a massive terrorist attack that kills thousands, literally caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, and end up in a secret prison as suspects.
Also, did I mention that they happen to be more technically inclined than the average student?
Released, they fight back, using hacks and technical resources I didn't know existed, but that Doctorow clearly explains and uses. As an added bonus, Doctorow explains in an addendum where he gets his technical material and what resources a reader could use to replicate what he describes in the book.
It's a fascinating story, for geeks and nongeeks, and the message is still fresh today: how much privacy should we expect, and to what extent are we willing to give up privacy and freedom for security?
The sequel to Little Brother is Homeland and is out now. (less)
I picked this up while cruising the racks at the local library. I was between novels and had just finished a chapter in my current non-fiction read, a...moreI picked this up while cruising the racks at the local library. I was between novels and had just finished a chapter in my current non-fiction read, and I was hoping for something lighter.
"Comic books," I thought, even though the section was labeled "Graphic Novels." And I'm a Star Wars geek, too, so I brought it home.
The artwork is decent, but the story was straightforward, and so, in the end, while a decent addition to the Vader's history and his decent into the evil assassin we greet at the opening of "A New Hope," I was not inspired. (less)
Philip K Dick is one of the more influential of science-fiction writers. This graphic novelization of his story does a decent job of setting images to...morePhilip K Dick is one of the more influential of science-fiction writers. This graphic novelization of his story does a decent job of setting images to his words, and from all appearances uses every word (though it has been a long time since I read the story, so I'm not positive).
Dick's forte was tricking readers into examining serious questions (like, "What does it mean to be human?") while entertaining with a clever story and empathetic characters. It's one of the reasons so many of his stories have made it to the big screen (including Blade Runner and Minority Report).
On the other hand,this is really a better story than a graphic novel. There are just too many frames of people standing still, talking...and no action. This is just the first section, and I'll be looking at the subsequent installments to see how they finish out the story.(less)
One of the reasons I read non-fiction and classics is that they tend to challenge me more than the books I enjoy reading the most. I'll pick up scienc...moreOne of the reasons I read non-fiction and classics is that they tend to challenge me more than the books I enjoy reading the most. I'll pick up science-fiction or fantasy because I want to escape, relax, and take a break. But too much, and I get bored.
I did not have that problem when I read this book. Not one bit.
Hannu Rajaniemi, though, has found a way to both escape and challenge my mind at the same time. The challenge is such that, as I have seen one reviewer note, I would not recommend Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief trilogy to the "uninitiated" to science fiction. Unlike the Star Wars, or even Star Trek, universes, where the laws of science are as ignored as any swords and sorcery fantasy (and, indeed, Luke Skywalker may have more in common with the questing, sword welding hero than not), Rajaniemi does not ignore physics.
He just finds a way to weld physics to do what he wants.
This is not to say that The Fractal Prince is dry and sodden down by the weight of physics. In fact, quite the contrary. Instead, the writing moves so fast, so quickly, that it is only the sprinkling of labels and jargon that reminds me that Rajaniemi is even thinking about it. What makes it feel real is this very awareness. The Fractal Prince is so far into the future that it is difficult recognizing what humanity has become. A lot of writers decide to slow down the technological progress when this happens to enable them to anchor their story in a reality that is easier to describe, if just because it looks like our own reality, but more shiny, with more space ships that look and move like gravity bound jet craft and laser guns that act more like semi-automatic firearms.
Perhaps it is because Rananiemi's is so cavalier about his ambition to create and remain honest to the setting of his story that his ambition is understated. In the universe of The Quantum Thief --who we might as well just call by name--in Jean de Flambeu's universe, we cannot help but see the characters as foreign, even alien. Gods and goddesses compete with warminds and self-loops, and a dozen other entities, all apparently descended from the race we call humanity, somehow melded by technology and preserved, copied, enhanced, and expanded.
And if that doesn't all blow your mind (at least when you read it), it's probably because you've become lost in the jargon. Rajanamiemi pulls terms from a half dozen languages that are not native to our planet, but totally uncommon to the western reader. I admit that I drew on Google more than once to get the gist for what he was intending with a word, and then even then I had to add to what I found an expanded understanding of what it meant in the context of the Quantum Thief, universe. Russian, Japanese, and Finnish all contribute to the vocabulary.
Pick up the book, though, push through the vocabulary, and you might find yourself a story that is both creative and familiar. Taking place in the space between Mars, where most of the plot in the first book in the trilogy took place, and Earth and on Earth itself, The Fractal Prince takes a page from A Thousand and One Nights . Not only is the setting of the heist a world reminiscent of the pre-Islamic Arabic world, but takes place in a shining city on the edge of a hostile desert, where decay and corruption are hiding just below the surface and where a story is as forbidden as the worship of images in modern day Islam. And yet, like our own world, the forbidden become a currency in themselves...
At its root, under all the science, the fiction, the clever jargon and imaginative settings, this is the story of a heist, and Rajanamiemi lays the pieces in place carefully, hiding strings until the end, letting the reader see them only as the plot comes together to a final denoument that is fully satisfying.
But do not going into it without your eyes wide open. This is not space opera. It's science fiction, and Rajanamiemi does it well. It will both challenge and entertain, and really, that's what good fiction should do. (less)
If you liked the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you'll like Year Zero, too. Robert Reid's satirical look at what happens when aliens realize they h...moreIf you liked the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you'll like Year Zero, too. Robert Reid's satirical look at what happens when aliens realize they have violated American copyright laws will have you smiling and chuckling from the moment two oddly dressed people (a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun) appear in Nick Carter's office and ask for him to straighten things out. Reminiscent of the sarcastic and over-the-top style made Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a cult classic, Reid has a style all his own.
Nick Carter is an junior attorney at a large New York law firm that makes its money suing every possible threat to their entertainment industry masters. On the verge of crossing over into the big time, Carter finds himself thrust into a plot to save the Earth from its own universe renowned music, all because he shares a name with a member of a once popular boyband still famous from Alpha Centauri to Andromeda. Before he's done, Nick will face the awesome power of unionized government employees, travel with entitled and bumbling reality stars from the stars, hoodwink a vacuum cleaner made of heavy metals, and argue before a tribunal of spineless alien bureaucrats. Also, he'll win love and impress a tough as nails partner in his firm.
Reid's Year Zero weaves a smart and satirical tale that mocks politics, pop music and the music industry, recording artists, Branson, Missouri, big law firms (and lawyers in general), Microsoft, bureaucrats, government unions, the United Nations, Senator Orrin Hatch, and indie musicians, just to name a few. Along the way, Reid peppers the story (heavily) with footnotes, and footnotes on the footnotes, that are humorous and informative in themselves.
As it goes in Jerry Maguire, Reid had me at 'hello," and I blazed through Year Zero and was almost sad to see it end. With any luck, it won't be Reid's last. I can't wait to read Rob Reid's next book. Whatever it is, I'm picking it up. If he can write anything even half as fun, insightful, and witty as Year Zero, then it will be worth the time.(less)