Tag: sick cover art

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.

 

Outriders

Outriders

I really enjoyed reading this. It was very smooth, and felt more like a conventional spec-ops novel translated into the future, than a novel about a future with a spec-ops time, but in a good way. The world felt very natural: the characters had neat tech and tools, and the environment and power dynamics were different, but close enough to be familiar, and their operating procedure seemed pretty familiar as well. The plot is smooth in a similar fashion, with an excellent flow and only a few arbitrary connections.

The book was tense, but not negatively so: I generally had faith that the characters could handle whatever they got into, excepting a handful of situations: as a result, those scenes were very intense.

I like the characters. The protagonists are all reasonable, professional, capable people, and they work together as a team. They generally are fine with each others’ company, and banter somewhat, but know there is a time and place for it. That is really refreshing. The antagonists are also mostly not evil sadistic monsters, but are professionals who know full well the human cost of their actions and feel it. They are chilling in a way that is impossible for stereotypical villains to be.

The ending obviously sets up the possibility for more books, and I wanted to yell at the characters for missing some really obvious clues about this.

COVER ART REVIEW: I am going to be honest: I bought the book because its front cover looked great and grabbed my eye and made me wonder what was going on, and the back cover text explained it perfectly and made me go YES. The art is very slick and top notch, and filled with intrigue: we can’t see who is in the suit, but they clearly mean business. We can’t really see where they are, but it’s clear they are in space. We don’t know what the deal with the suit is, but it’s clear it’s high-tech and dangerous. I don’t know who the Outriders are, but whoever they are, they are high-octane and lead interesting, dangerous lives. I also really like the color palette: the artist does a lot with a very limited palette.

The Outcasts of Heaven Belt

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The Outcasts of Heaven Belt is a book I started reading months ago, put down after the first few chapters, and picked it up again recently and started over from the beginning. I am glad I gave the book another shot. The first few chapters are sad and overwhelming. Much more important than the tragedy that opens the story, though, is Vince’s moving depiction of how memory, grief, and the need for continued survival can all coexist and drive a recovery. The characters are our main lenses into the societies of Heaven Belt, and as flawed and unlikeable as some of them are, they feel tangible and believable.

Betha and the Ranger’s role as outsiders from Morningside fallen into the chaos of Heaven Belt sets up the inevitable comparisons between the three main societies of Heaven Belt: The Demarchists, The Ringers, and Lansing. Each society has adapted to the fall of Heaven Belt and their new-found vulnerability to environmental threats in different ways. This felt incredibly strong, especially given how each society’s available resources and territory guided their differential responses. One weakness is an over-reliance on telling rather than showing. There are some examples where Vince directly shows the culture in action, such as the mediamen circus on Betha’s arrival in the Demarchy, or where Vince uses characters behavior to get at social norms, for example Shadow Jack’s treatment of others, and these scenes are very effective. Scenes where characters spend a paragraph describing their culture and explaining how it’s different to the other feel more contrived.

One key aspect to each society is how they protect their women from cosmic radiation, and thus ensure the continuation of their society with a new generation of healthy children. None of the cultures fare very well by the standards of current Western society, but what makes this especially interesting is how these societies are confronted by an ‘alien’ ship captained by a woman, visibly challenging their beliefs and shaking their conviction. An explanation of why men are not similarly prized against the radiation is less convincing, although at one point a character explains they can freeze sperm, but not ova, which seems reasonable enough.

Confusingly enough, the ending was simultaneously utterly contrived feeling while also feeling perfectly reasonable and believable. Still not entirely sure how that’s possible.

COVER ART REVIEW: I love it! The gas giant and the teeny planetoid in the bottom right corner caught my eye as being particular awesome, and the ships are gorgeous. A great example of vintage cover art.

Weekend Bonus: Damnation Alley

DAMNATION ALLEY COVER ART REVIEW
When I was looking for covers to post in my review of Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley, I came across over ten different covers with unique art, and almost all of them were fabulous, so I thought I would display them all here:

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If the mood of the book matched this, I would definitely have used it first. However, this is much more of an alien world vibe than a shattered earth vibe.

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Again, we have a masterpiece here. Make sure to pay attention to the small details: the broken road; the cockroach in the foreground; the giant armored insects in the background; the ruins looming in the fog; the black/red background/font colors, and the stylish slashing font of the book’s name…

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… and here we have a much different view, of a hellscape engulfed in flame. I like the destroyed traffic light, and we can see the important twisters wreaking havoc in the background. I feel the reddish pallor cast over the scene is too intense, though, and the title’s font, while inventive, resembles fur more than fire.

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There are some bits with motorcycles, but most of the book actually takes place in the battle-car. Pass. Also, what’s with the green fields in the background? Get with the times: Earth is an irradiated wasteland.

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This is a pretty sweet vehicle, but I don’t think it bears much relationship to the monster battlecar in the book. The mood is additionally much more “belter asteroid chaos death match” instead of “a race across apocalyptic earth.”damnation-alley-5.jpg

Hmmm, I like it, but this is much more terraforming equipment and much less mobile death messenger car.

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Mmm, still not quite right. Also, that snake is like WHAT.

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Huh. Nice font, but I am not so sure about the robed guy. I mean, that is like one scene. And I dunno about the book portraying Hell Tanner; not what I pictured.

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I am also not really sure how I feel about that one. Also, this novel didn’t seem particularly “Berkeley” to me, but sure, I guess.

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The mood on this is definitely way off from the actual feel of the novel. What is all that yellow doing there?

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Now THAT was unexpected! Definitely like the scale of it all, although I feel it’s not faithful to the book, and Hell Tanner most definitely looks not like the Hell Tanner I had in my head, and instead like some ex-military badass commando, but this cover is pretty amazing. Just not really for this book, I guess.

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. . .

wut

Hegira

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Today I finished reading Hegira, by Greg Bear, published by TOR. The text is copyrighted 1979, and notes a revision in 1987.

Hegira was intriguing and had a unique feel to it. For a story of adventure and travel, the tone is rather calm and reflective for much of the book, although there are periods of grim dread as well as tense action at times. Hegira follows the journey of three people across the surface of Hegira, seeking knowledge of the world and the truth: Bey Bar-Woten, an Ibisian soldier, Barthel, Bar-Woten’s man-servant, and Kiril, a young scrittori scribe from Mediwen. They are all well developed, Kiril and Bey more so. The narrative flows from all three of their perspectives, often without a clear transition. Surprisingly, this was only jarring a few times. I think this is part of what lends the book its unique feel, in how despite their vastly different backgrounds and outlooks, they share the same goal and drive, and this technique of melding their perspectives shows that.

The Obelisk concept works greatly to establish that unique feel. Bear uses it especially well to explain and develop the world believably. Hegira is a highly intriguing mix of cultures, philosophies, societies, and economies, which is interesting not only intellectually but also has ramifications for the societal and character interactions that drive the plot. There is also a mystery woven into the entire story that compelled me to keep reading, the mystery of Hegira, the obelisks, and the truth of the world. I would say the story becomes less interesting and believable as more of the mystery is revealed and the end approaches, but it is not a fatal failing. I could see where the plot was going, but the exact contours were still a reveal.

COVER ART REVIEW: Super awesome, and does a great deal to convey the concept behind the obelisks.