Month: May 2016

The LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER: LEVIATHAN

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This is book number five in The LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER series, which comes immediately after The LOST FLEET series, which begins with a book called The LOST FLEET: DAUNTLESS, which is a good book. LEVIATHAN is also a good book. It is also the only book in the entire LOST FLEET and BEYOND THE FRONTIER series which ends without a cliffhanger, to my knowledge. So if you were hankering for some good military science fiction, then you definitely could buy the entire LOST FLEET and LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER series and read them all in sequence and then finish with LEVIATHAN and not have a cliffhanger that makes you wait a year before getting back to the good stuff. Then again, LEVIATHAN is the conclusion of the BEYOND THE FRONTIER series, which followed The LOST FLEET series, which means there isn’t any more good stuff in this exact series coming up. (You could check out  The LOST STARS series for more stuff set in this universe, but I don’t like that series as much as the other two. While the first and second are intriguing, they seem to lack the focus and depth of the other two series, and the third novel seemed more like a fluffy romance drama with some seriously creepy twists than watching a seriously good commander make tough strategic and tactical decisions and deal with the consequences. But the fourth book seems to wrap up that series, so I probably will pick it up and reread The LOST STARS series soon.)

I think The LOST FLEET series is pretty good. It focuses on Captain “Black Jack” Geary, a legendary starship captain whose escape pod was lost in the first battle of a war that has lasted over a hundred years. The book starts with an Alliance invasion fleet recovering his escape pod. The invasion fleet then stumbles into a well-set trap, the fleet and its leadership is decimated, and it is up to Captain Geary to take control of the fleet and get it safely home.

This is even more of a challenge than it sounds, as a hundred years of bitter, unconstrained war have changed the Alliance so much that Captain Geary hardly recognizes his people and their war tactics. The books focus on how Geary adapts to that, and how he manages to sculpt change amongst his commanders and the fleet. There are also lots of space battles and plenty of intrigue.

The LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER series focus on the aftermath of what happens once the fleet returns to Alliance territory. (Spoilers!! But not really. I mean, it’s Cap’n Black Jack Geary. Of course he makes it home!) Here the focus changes to how Geary and his fleet interact with the various non-Alliance worlds, what they discover out beyond the frontier, and the resulting responses from the various inter-Alliance factions. This second series maintains the first’s focus on societal patterns and motivations, and the factors and reasons which shaping those outlooks. Except some of the societies involved are aliens (SPOILERS!! But not really… I mean, do you even read the book jacket summaries?), and they are carefully thought out, with motives that are more complex than simple ciphers of human behavior. The series also still has a lot of space battles and intrigue.

Cover Art: The paperback cover for Leviathan is much inferior to the hardback cover, which is awesome and amazing and colorful and perfect. And I got the paperback. See, here is a thumbnail of the hardback cover:

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Sigh…

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Blasphemy

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Genre Disclaimer: Blasphemy belongs to the “crappy particle accelerator based thriller (science) fiction” genre. I included science this time, but qualified it with parentheses, as this is definitely a character based thriller mystery. Well, I’m not sure if I should say character: perhaps archetype is better. Or stereotype. Whichever, it’s alright, but not great, although if you like thrillers, then it may be decent. Interestingly enough, it’s actually a minor plot point that the characters have their archetypal personalities and extreme outlooks, but the reasoning was thin and it was a stretch.

Speaking of stretching, while the plot is actually gripping and tense, it’s simultaneously disappointing in that it refuses to let you suspend your disbelief. Rather, it prefers to pretend continually that highly unlikely things (mainly the armed chaos towards the end) would actually occur, while the whole time it’s obvious that it is the authors’ artifice pushing things towards the conclusion and nothing more. The mustache twirling holier-than-thou villainy that occurs towards the end is sigh-worthy, and I found Blasphemy’s depiction of both religious people and mentally troubled individuals blasphemously insulting. Instead of presenting characters who were believably motivated by their faith, belief, and viewpoints, Blasphemy presents mindless extremists who happen to also be religious and/or scientists. Subtlety didn’t just lose this fight: it never showed up. And the paperback is 544 pages.

I’ve also noticed that this is the third clearance book I’ve picked up with a female character named Kate who plays the role of “idealized sexually attractive woman”. (To be honest, that characterizes most of the female characters in this book, which is also a little off-putting.)

Blasphemy was published in 2008 by Forge Books and is apparently the second book in the Wyman Ford series.

COVER ART REVIEW: … wait. The cover is yellow. (and unremarkable.) But why is this picture green?

Baldur’s Gate II (Boss Fight Books)

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I thought I had no expectations when I started reading this book, but actually I expected a game-design heavy dive into the complex guts of Baldur’s Gate II, which is widely regarded one of the world’s best role-playing computer video game. Instead I got two intertwined narratives: one of the author’s personal life and how video games and Baldur’s Gate II specifically shaped their life; one of the narrative of Gorion’s Ward, the protagonist of Baldur’s Gate, and the structure of the game that tells his or her story.

This book is a fairly good overview of the games’ premise, structure, plot, power, and shortcomings. Far more importantly, Bell’s story of his life and how the game fit into his life and affected it is quite strong to me. As someone who was frequently called a nerd and dork by various adolescents in my cohort, it was actually surprising to me how strongly Bell’s story resonated with me, and thus how much of my earlier years I had forgotten. (Others who know me might have been less surprised, of course!)

Returning to the books’ depiction of the game, I have played Baldur’s Gate II at least twice and probably played it partway through several times more. When I read of the world of the Forgotten Realms, about that evil bastard Jon Irenicus, about the characters of spunky Mazzy or that tricky Jan Jansen or that git Anomen or sweet Aerie, it transports me back. This may not be the case for others who have read it, and certainly won’t be the case for those who have never touched Baldur’s Gate II. This book is in a tough spot, if it is the game you are interested in: if you have played it, you will find its exploration of the game wanting. If you haven’t, the description of the game probably won’t speak to you.

P.S. This book was published in 2015 by Boss Fight Books, which has a lot of other similar books focusing on single video games. I got it for the Kindle through StoryBundle, specifically through the Boss Fight Books sale that is ending tomorrow-ish.

P.P.S. My favorite Minsc quote was “Evil, meet my sword! SWORD, MEET EVIL!”

P.P.S. Okay, Minsc runner-up quote: “Make way evil – I’m armed to the teeth, and packing a hamster!”

Memory

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Note: click this cover to view it at full size, as artist Emily Irwin has done a fantastic job.

This book was utterly amazing. While this is obviously incredibly subjective, this is definitely the book I have most enjoyed reading in 2015 – 2016 so far.

The first chapter in particular is extraordinarily fantastic. Nagata doesn’t stop to explain things immediately, because she doesn’t need to. The flow is perfect, the world is vivid, and the viewpoint of the main character, Jubilee, and her everyday interactions with the normal facets of her world slowly begin to assemble images of a world profoundly different from anything we, the readers, are accustomed to. For the first few chapters, often I would just stop, dumbfounded, as the story delved into the world and wove something perfectly normal and incomprehensibly different, something that I was never sure was fiction or fantasy or science fiction, and interpretations danced through my mind, changing as Nagata wove out more details.

I highly enjoyed the pace of the story. The world as Jubilee sees it is vivid, detailed, and always fascinating, with a feeling of awe and wonder permeating every discovery they make as they travel across the land to unravel the secrets behind the stranger and the silver. The world, characters, and story are all incredibly well fleshed out and developed together, with a well paced plot driving the entire story onwards.

Obligatory Kindle Note: I read this on a Kindle.

The Five Elements

TheFiveElements.jpg*(I couldn’t find a back cover, so I took the official description I could find and pasted it on black.)

The Five Elements is a totally functional book. It was exciting at points, and kept me reading to see what happened, and there were some neat scenes and ideas scattered through, but at the end I felt it had been a decent experience, rather than an unforgettable one.

The characters sometimes felt rather flat: it was mostly fine, but since the characters all had one main facet and little else, after that was initially developed, it got somewhat less interesting. This was also an especially large problem with the villains, who had limited motivations aside from wanting unlimited power.

Unfortunately, while the plot and world started out feeling promising, after the first half both descended into a state of eh. Norwynne was great, and the world of that city was really interesting, especially with the Undercity and all. Then the story left the city for the wilds. The tech-magic stuff was intriguing and promising: for a while it seemed like the details of the encorder and attunement system would be important to the plot. In the full scheme of things, while theoretically that knowledge should be important, it was not particularly well woven into the story. I never felt like magical events really were totally sensible given our knowledge of the world. Instead, it felt like something happened and Aaron or a villain explained how/why it did in context of the world. Additionally, there were some gaping holes in the villains’ various plans, and as those come to light in the later half, it throws a dash of cold water on the immersion. I will say the mystery and confusion around some of the villains kept me distracted until the very climax. However, at the end I was bummed out by the revelation of what the Fifth Element is. The Fifth Element feels like something that is pretty prone to tropeing, so if you use it, you want to make it something special rather than something eh.

I probably will get the sequel (The Nullification Engine) on the Kindle, but if I do, it will be out of interest in the plot, structure, and worldbuilding aspects rather than a particular interest in the plot or characters. (Okay, maybe I am interested in the relationships between Ensel Re, Serena, and Aaron, but that’s really not the main motivator.) Since the Five Elements was first published in 2010, while the Nullification Engine was published in 2013, it will be interesting to see whether the authors’ style has changed.

OBLIGATORY KINDLE NOTE: I kindled this. On a Kindle.

COVER ART REVIEW: It’s rather… abstract? Conveys the theme, if little else. But very shiny!

 

 

 

The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth

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A collection of selected stories written by Roger Zelazny from 1963 to 1968, which was published in 1971 and later revised to add two additional stories. The Kindle edition I read was published by ibooks inc. through Publisher’s Group West.

All the stories in this collection are both intriguing and compelling. The stories exhibit a good deal of variety, with the stories being long, short, or very short; the narrative spanning a single scene, a few days, a year, or thousands of years; the quality and mood being introspective, deliberate, hurried, action-packed, dense, plain, evocative, poetic, elegant, or jumbled.

All of them are very Zelazny.

There are some common themes that arose in the stories, yet as they approached from different angles, it was always interesting without being repetitive:

  • The hunt, the climb, the obsessive drive of those driven in pursuit of their goal or profession.
  • Cryogenic suspension, old sleep, the suspension of time, and its effects upon the psyche.
  • Chronic disease, adjustment to a chronic wasting, and living with the hope of a cure.

In any case, I will list the short stories’ titles, and provide a brief impression.

The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth: A suspenseful story about sportsmen hunting the one leviathan to evade their hunt and the terrors of the deep.

Keys to December: A foreboding tale of terraforming spanning thousands of years, the evolution of life, and a single lifespan.

Devil Car: A revenge tale of a man and his battle car, roaming the wasteland between Fuel Stop/Rest Stop Fortresses, seeking out the autonomous Devil Car that killed his brother.

A Rose for Ecclesiastes: A cultural first contact story following a damn conceited rhymer and how human culture transforms Martian Civilization, and how Martian beauty transforms him.

The Monster and the Maiden: A clever inversion.

Collector’s Fever: An object demonstration of the dangers of stupidity, rudeness, and deebling.

This Mortal Mountain: A mysterious tale of a legendary mountain climber, his team, and ethereal impressions as they scale the Grey Sister, a forty kilometer tall mountain whose peak is wreathed in space.

This Moment of the Storm: A long-sleeping starship passenger working as a weather tech / deputy on a sparsely settled frontier planet weathers the biggest storm ever to strike Beta Station.

The Great Slow Kings: An illuminating demonstration of the impact of the speed of metabolism.

A Museum Piece: A ridiculous and hilarious satire of artists, art, museums, and art critics.

Divine Madness: A strange, sobering tale exploring actions, reactions, consequences, and grief, and an unbelievable chance.

Corrida: I’m… honestly unsure.

Love is an Imaginary Number: A reality-jumping struggle between chaos and order.

The Man Who Loved the Faioli: A strange tale of the women of the Faioli, and the one man who lived despite their love.

Lucifer: A poignant tale of a lonely survivor struggling in the desolation of an abandoned metropolis.

The Furies: A policeman enlists the service of two savants to hunt down a rogue patrolman, leading to some exciting action, intriguing twists, and a flavoring of mythos.

The Graveyard Heart: The story of a man driven to cryogenic high society by pursuit of a woman, and the consequences of their lifestyle.

My favorite stories were This Moment of the Storm (felt like a real tale of struggle) and A Museum Piece (ridiculous to the point of utter absurdity, and hilarious as a result).

COVER ART REVIEW: While my Kindle edition had no cover art, I have provided a facsimile of the original dust jacket title. I like it, but am honestly somewhat befuddled thereby.

 

Pyramids

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I am conflicted when it comes to Pyramids. First, I really like Saberhagens’ Beserker mythos, so I wanted to also like this book. However, Pyramids is a slow burner. The first 85 pages were a slog when it was Tom’s part of the story, but interesting when it focused on the Egyptians. I put the book down and literally found it four months later, and only then realized then I had never picked it up to finish reading it. Which, honestly, is a little awkward. But I started reading it again, and starting around page 90, Tom’s story started getting interesting. Then at page 105 it picked up some more, page 121 ratcheted it up even more, and the plot took off at page 135. I really enjoyed the book after this point, but that slow opening was brutal for me.

The characterization was well done, as while Tom Schlefer and his girlfriend were somewhat annoying initially, they grew (somewhat) on me. The remaining characters were adequate, with Pilgrim, some Egyptians, and a few other humans, all with motives that were continually in question for the character, if not quite as much for the reader.

The plot was well crafted, with the last sixth of the book launching itself entirely off the rails. It’s pretty great. The time travel mechanics are intriguing, but never fully elucidated, which honestly suited me fine and was probably for the better. I am not quite sure whether to consider the book a comedy or a tragedy: I guess you could consider it a dry tragicomedy? Anyways.

Pyramids was published in 1987 by Baen Publishing Enterprises, not around 2570 BC by Khnum-Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt.

COVER ART REVIEW: While it has some really cool elements, overall the cover art feels like less than the sum of its parts. I really dig the pastel square frame effect going on, and putting the Ra in Ra is both genius and Ra is really well drawn and detailed. If you look closely at the pyramid base, there’s a lot of neat little details there, too. But the composition feels scattered, as nothing really draws the elements together.

P.S. This story would be amazing if it turned out it was the Beserkers’ fault the whole time. Pyramids fan-fiction, here I come…

 

Islands in the Net

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Islands in the Net is a very enjoyable read that starts out by grounding us in Laura Webster’s life running the Lodge in Galveston, Texas, for an economic democratic corporation called Rizome. The murder of a representative of a questionable power then upsets Laura’s life and launches her on an intensely dangerous journey that takes her through several very different societies, each of which are a fascinating amalgamation of certain philosophies, technology, history, political systems, and motivations all splattered together into vibrant wholes. Each transition ratchets up the danger she faces and the strain placed upon the global balance of power until inevitably something has to give, creating a horrifying sense of a grim acceleration.

While I found Laura Webster an interesting and capable protagonist, the novel is very much about the world and the interplay of technological advancement, development, and deployment, and how that affects economic, cultural, political, and ethical structures. When Sterling takes us through Grenada and Singapore, these exotic locations are not mere stage dressing for Laura’s investigation, but are as important a part of the narrative as the plot itself. The novel shows a very good use of technological -> societal feedback loops.

Some aspects are oddly prescient: while the futuristic Net as imagined in 1988 sounds positively silly to us, its use and the consequences of daily reliance sound pretty familiar to users of the Internet. The picture of American decline might be seen as predictive. There are some aspects that seem rather farfetched, such as the abolition of nuclear weaponry, the extreme degree of national governmental irrelevance, and the descent into global chaos and creation of new world powers. Additionally, the use of disruptive technologies that upset the power balance, such as single-celluar organismal protein food sources (i.e. growing bacteria for food), drone warfare, and gene-tailored drugs may seem exaggerated, although one could argue that such changes are simply further ahead in our future. Nonetheless, Sterling creates a world rich with plausible strangeness.

One touch I found very well done was the generational conflict between Laura and her mother over cultural issues and their worldviews. It was a convincing way to convey some background information that would be awkward to directly give the reader, and was very revealing, although the characters did seem a touch preachy at certain points.

I hesitate to mention it, but while visually the book presents itself as a cyberpunk novel, and you can find it classified as such, to me it really does not read that way. Admittedly, the appropriate strangeness of cyberpunk is present, but there is a lack of the grindingly oppressive dystopian feel that seems a cornerstone of the work to me, such as you find in William Gibson’s works, or the complete absurdness you might find in Stephenson’s Snow Crash. There’s a certain plausibility and grounding in a realistic mood. Perhaps cyberthriller? Not really sure, but I found thinking about the genre lines here interesting.

COVER ART REVIEW: I am legitimately not sure who this character on the cover is. It might be Laura Webster, but I really did not get an image remotely like this character from the book itself. While it definitely establishes a cyberpunkian mood for the novel itself, it really does not match any of the characters. I looked to see if there were any other cover images that might be a better fit, but honestly, I found nothin’.

Pathfinder

Pathfinder_All.jpg This is the third of the three Major Ariane Kedros books. It relies on the events and characters of the previous books more than the second book relied upon the first, but in doing so picks up a lot of interesting loose ends and further develops them.

Pathfinder felt less grim than either of the two books: while Peacekeeper and Vigilante descended into periods that were grim for the entire duration, here it occurs occasionally and for far less page time. I personally enjoyed that difference.

I also really enjoyed the Minoans’ part in this novel: I definitely had my jaw literally drop during a few scenes.

One focal points of the novel is the Interstellar Criminal Tribunal. There’s some sort of political maneuvering occurring around it, the Terran representatives’ behavior is suspicious, and there is a wave of sabotage across the system targeting key witnesses for the tribunal. This plot arc is gripping and kept me guessing what exactly is going on right up until the shit hits the fan and the climax strikes. I definitely had no idea what was coming with the “old enemy” hidden within the exploration team, but once it happened, it made a lot of sense.

I am definitely sad there are not more novel-length books set in this universe, although Reeve does have plans for a set of “prequel interlocking stories of past missions that Kedros, Edones, and Joyce did for the Directorate of Intelligence” titled Minoan Space: Major Ariane Kedros Missions. Unfortunately, there is no timeline regarding those.

Pathfinder were published in 2010 by ROC, an imprint of the New American Library, which is a division of the Penguin Group.

COVER ART REVIEW: The composition is striking, if less interesting than the previous two books, but the color balance, as before, is very compelling.