Month: December 2016

Iron Night

Iron Night cover art

I really liked this second installation of the series, as it maintains the quality of writing and atmosphere I enjoyed so much about Generation V while plausibly continuing the narrative threads from Generation V and adding new elements that fit comfortably with it.
After Fortitude Scott’s various encounters and challenges dealing with being in danger in Generation V, he has realized that he needs to be able to protect himself and be somewhat less of a naive, dewey-eyed dweeb. This totally removes the one main thing I did not enjoy about Generation V, which was how insanely naive he was. He’s still Fortitude Scott, but it seems he has learned a lesson and is a bit more understanding that naivety is a weakness in the supernatural world. There are still plenty of “Fortitude Scott moments”, but those moments are not as overpowering as previously.
I found the investigation into the murders captivating, and there were a lot of good “o shit!” realization moments along the way. The plot flowed at a good pace, and the ending in particular caught my attention for being the perfect length.

Suzume is still a total smart-ass, prank-loving joy to behold. The relationships between Madeleine, Prudence, and Chivalry deepen and become more interesting, with Chivalry’s relationship with his wife giving a plausible reason for Fortitude to take over more of the family business. And the introduction of elves and half-elves not only reuses characters from Generation V very well, but also gives us several new characters and an innovative take on elvish culture.

 

Cover Art Review: I apologize for the terrible photography of the back cover, I was in a hurry and sadly cannot rephotograph it for a while.

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Generation V

Generation V cover art

Generation V was quite an enjoyable read, and I have already ordered the following books. While the book pushes the “reality bites” line pretty hard, it’s mostly humorous and spaced out well enough to not be overwhelming. The more imminent danger to the reader’s immersion is how much of a pure soul Fortitude has. Granted, most of the time it’s fun and entertaining to see more pragmatic minds react to him, but occasionally his shocked reactions are just too much and it becomes obnoxious. Fortunately, those moments tend to be short-lived, thanks to the witty banter between Suzume and Fortitude, Chivalry and Fortitude, or the perils of working a minimum wage job at a coffee shop. There’s plenty to help ease you back into the story, and Fortitude’s worry for the safety of those targeted by the vampire is understandable and infectious: there was a sense of dread that grew as the plot drives onwards and we see who the outsider vampire is preying on and why.

With those pain points out of the way, on to the things that made Generation V such a great read. First, the characterization was really good. The characters all felt distinct, unique, and like actual people, with a strong first impression as well as further depth. Suzume is probably the best example, being sexy and not afraid to flaunt it, mischievous and loving a good prank (or seven), but sensitive enough to back off on issues that really hurt. Further, there are some excellent instances of character development that made me leave bookmarks and take notes later, especially in Fortitude’s case. These moments arise out of the relationships between different characters, and drive the plot forwards. Essentially, there’s that perfect relationship between the world, the characters, and the plot where they are all coupled tightly, and developments to any one feel organic and drive additional organic developments, rather than feeling like an author decided that something has to happen.
As someone who reads a decent amount of urban fantasy, the mythos also felt fresh and unique. Fortitude’s introduction to his vampireness aside, his strained relationship with his vampire family and his refusal to engage with the supernatural world means the reader is right alongside him with learning about the supernatural world for the first time.

Cover Art Review: Not gonna lie, the title line on the side of the book and then the composition of the cover were one of the things that made me pull this one off the shelf and take a closer look. The use of the white – black – red palette is really efficient and evocative. It also reminds me of a bad joke about newspapers…

Tactics of Mistake

Tactics of Mistake front and back cover.

 

Tactics of Mistake was an enjoyable read. It’s worth noting that I generally like Gordon R. Dickson’s work, and have read a scattering of his Dorsai novels. The main weakness in this story is how well Cletus Grahame predicts events and people’s actions. There are a handful of cases where things go awry, but these setbacks are small scale and grounded in chance, not in a failure of Cletus’ strategic and tactical acumen. For the one main character to be consistently entirely correct is entertaining, but feels quite artificial, and crushed my suspension of disbelief. However, turns out I didn’t need it anyways. Cletus’ insights are always grounded in considering the environment or his opponent’s goals and psyche. In that regard, it is less a matter of Cletus being prescient and more a matter of it being unbelievable that all his opponents are incapable of making similar insights.

While there are many definitions of science fiction, one of the more prevalent is that science fiction asks “what if this set of changes happened? How would that change the world?” In that vein, Tactics of Mistake explores how the use of mercenary forces in colonial battles might affect the structure of combat organizations and the skills and outlook required for soldiers and officers. The introduction of the mental power of concentration and how useful that is for soldiers is fascinating, especially given the current trend promoting mindfulness and meditation for efficiency improvements in the workplace. Cletus is the vector for pretty much all of this considerations, and that gives the book a strong “one self-made man changes the universe” vibe.

There is also a romantic subplot that has to my eyes not aged particularly well.

Cover Art Review: Sublime! I really really like the shading on the jacket and the color palette used, especially the contrast of the stark white book title, the fiery glow of the background, and the blue military uniform in the foreground.