SpeculativeFiction


Nightseer


If the Anita Blake series is Hamilton's talents in full flower, then Nightseer is little more than an amateurish first novel that attained publishable status by virtue of the author's later success. It is not so much a bad novel as it is an embarassing one; clumsy and awkward and heavy-handed like a teenager's first dates, the occasional moments of skillful writing are not worth wading through the adolescent wish-fulfillment. Only a completist should consider this one.

Wed Jan 05 02:26:54 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Chanur's Legacy

Hilfy Chanur has taken on the role of merchant-captain on her own vessel, following in the footsteps of Pyanfar's career. But the shadow of her former captain is always visible, and intrigue never far off.

Wed Jan 05 02:26:44 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Blue Moon


When Richard, the perpetual Boy Scout, gets himself thrown in jail on rape charges just a few days before the full moon, something doesn't quite add up -- and it's Anita to the rescue. Another pack of werewolves and a hostile Master of the City in Richard's college town don't exactly simplify the situation, and when an endangered species of mountain troll joins the fun, this book has all the elements of a quality Anita mystery. Fans of the series should expect the usual sexual tension permeating the atmosphere as Anita begins to realize that denial is more than a river in Eqypt.

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Wed Jan 05 02:25:53 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Jhereg

The best way to understand the world of Vlad Taltos, assassin, is to begin with the knowledge that he works almost exclusively for the elvish mafia. Yes, there are elves in the mafia. There's also magical pollution, talking lizards, and lots of good swashbuckling fun.

Wed Jan 05 02:25:42 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

The Chanur Saga

The Chanur Saga is a compilation of three books in Cherryh's Chanur universe. This is the obligatory "catlike semi-humanoid spacefaring alien species" series from Cherryh; for reasons I quail at examining the basic idea is fairly popular and has received several treatments by various authors. This compilation includes an introductory novel and the first two novels of a trilogy, so if you decide to buy it, make sure you buy Chanur's Homecoming too. The first time I read it, I neglected this step, and was left hanging a bit for lack of resolution to the series.

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Wed Jan 05 02:25:27 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Coolhunting


She was a coolhunter with forty different legal identities. Her job: to drive fads; to find the "next cool thing" five to ten times per week. She was one of the best. Entire corporations rose and fell under her influence. But then some really uncool things started to happen...


From the description, this sounds like an adaptation of the idea first pioneered by Connie Willis in Bellwether. Although I haven't read this adaptation, I have read other works by this author, and most of Connie Willis' work; between the two, Connie Willis is the better author, but even in good hands it makes for little more than an interesting intellectual exercise.

Wed Jan 05 02:25:01 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Hammerfall

Hammerfall is set in a desert world where the low-tech populace is completely ignorant of their interstellar origins and of the conflict between (alien?) races that is about to engulf them. The book largely consists of the intricacies of desert travel in a world where the nanotech-enforced scavengers have gotten a little out of control. Several of the primary characters are 'mad', they receive visions that direct them to a certain place and warn of an incomprehensible impending disaster. One of these, a former prince of the independent desert tribes, is sent by the enigmatic and seemingly immortal ruler to investigate the cause of the madness; however, she knows far more than she's willing to tell the mad prince.

Beyond simply being a fantasy-esque trip through the desert with a few fleshed-out characters, there's not a lot to this book. The low-tech characters' views of the strange technologies they encounter is slightly interesting but could have been done a lot better - more mysterious, creepier, more wonderous, something. This book might be an opener for a series, I don't know; as a standalone the interstellar implications of the story are vague and uninteresting, and those implications are supposed to be the driving force of the plot.

Wed Jan 05 02:24:23 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Something from the Nightside


Something from the Nightside is another piece of formulaic fantasy from Simon Green, who seems quite capable of writing formulaic fantasy or science fiction with his eyes closed and quite possibly while unconscious. His books are characterized by unique people with unique items wielding unique powers, to the point where the sheer uniqueness of everything (complete with capitalization) becomes tiresome and repetitive. This book is a fairly normal application of his formula.



That said, it's not necessarily a bad formula. Something from the Nightside works well enough to entertain. And for certain purposes, such as providing inspiration for characters in a roleplaying game, it is very well suited.


Wed Jan 05 02:23:40 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

This is a compilation of the earliest short stories and novellas featuring Conan the Cimmerian, famed barbarian king and warrior without peer. Conan was born in a time when the cutting edge of fantasy and science fiction was often to be found in magazines, rather than novels, and this collection brings together the scattered early stories into a single place. There are many strange and terrifying beasts, a healthy helping of sorcery, and more than enough steel for the barbarian of lore to hold his own. To say nothing of the nubile rewards of victory for a warrior whose primal urges are themselves the stuff of legend.

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Wed Jan 05 02:23:34 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Thief of Lives

Thief of Lives is an unusual combination of mythology. The traditional pseudo-medieval fantasy setting, with elves and (presumably) dwarves, contrasts sharply with the primary focus of the characters: killing vampires. Or rather, exploiting the ignorance of the people who believe in vampires, because two snake-oil salesmen can make a good living getting rid of things that don't really exist.

This book follows up on the first, which revealed to the protagonists that their mythical enemy actually existed, with an exploration of the stereotypically dark and mysterious past. What's a formulaic fantasy wanderer without an air of mystery? Obviously, not stereotypical enough.

Like its predecessor, Thief of Lives is very much a B-grade fantasy novel. It will successfully pass the time, but little more.

Wed Jan 05 02:23:33 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Consequences

Consequences is a Retrieval Artist novel. The series (with two previous books) is set in a universe where humanity interacts on a regular basis with many alien cultures of varying degrees of strangeness. Many of these alien cultures have strange laws or taboos that humans can be subject to horrible penalties for violating -- whether they know that they are violating the alien's laws or not.

This conflict of interest has spawned a small, but significant, industry: making people "disappear" for the purposes of evading the consequences of breaking an unjust (by human standards) alien law. Unlike typical criminals, the "disappeared" are usually respected and wealthy people who can afford to pay exorbitant fees in order to start life over -- simply because those who are not rarely have the opportunity to violate alien taboos. The law doesn't look too hard for them... but the aliens themselves usually do, and if found, justice is applied on the spot.

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Wed Jan 05 02:23:23 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

The Wreck of the River of Stars

The Wreck of the River of Stars, despite winning the Heinlein award, is a book well suited to it's title. It bears the unfortunate stigma of a tragedy with little impact, a disaster with little meaning. It lacks impact. If one is to consider the obvious parallels, it is a failure of Titanic proportions.

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Wed Jan 05 02:23:19 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

The Hedge Knight

The Hedge Knight builds on Martin's short story in the Legends anthology about Dunk and Egg. It collects the six-issue comic series into a single graphic novel. If you missed the comics, this is a good way to catch up. The events substantially predate those in the Song of Ice and Fire series, however, and appears to be independent -- that is, no information that is necessary to understand the series is presented in the graphic novel, and vice versa.

Wed Jan 05 02:23:16 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Grasp the Stars

I picked this book up on the principle that new authors should occasionally be experimented with in case the book turns out to be good. Unfortunately in this case the author turns out to be very, very bad. In hindsight I'm ashamed that I didn't bother to read a sample from inside the book, because the hideously poor prose alone would have inevitably tipped me off. I don't think I'm going to finish this one, and you, gentle reader, should take care not to start it. I've been making a few pages of progress each time I pick it up, so far, and setting it down the next time the book makes me wince.

Wed Jan 05 02:23:12 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Cerulean Sins


Cerulean Sins continues the annoying tradition of more sex and angst, less violence.

Wed Jan 05 02:23:06 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

The Dark Tower


The Dark Tower is the final volume of Stephen King's Dark Tower Cycle, a work that has taken over 20 years to complete. For fans of the series, this concluding volume comes with great relief as well as great joy; at times it seemed impossible to consider that the series could ever be finished. It must have seemed the same to King as well, for it was clearly his magnum opus, incorporating and unifying so many of his other words that told their own pieces of the tale.



As with any concluding volume, the reception it will receive will be mixed. It is impossible to conclude such a powerful and mythic series in a manner that pleases everyone; some fans will always feel betrayed by the ending, and others by the twists and turns of the journey. The ending of this particular series will be especially disturbing, and yet at the same time it is the right ending. Never mind what I have to say about that; the ending is right, but you'll have to read the book to learn how.

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Wed Jan 05 02:23:03 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Lord Of The Isles


Lord of the Isles was one of the few books I purchased in hardcover without having read anything else by that author previously. It was a mistake. The writing is barely competent, the characters are interchangable, and the plot incomprehensible. A very poor showing indeed.

Wed Jan 05 02:23:00 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

The Runes of the Earth


In The Chronicles of Covenant the Unbeliever Donaldson wove a compelling tale of a fantasy world threatened by a malevolent being known as Lord Foul, and capable of defending itself ultimately through the intervention of one man -- a man outcast from human society, a man whose survival demands that he abandon hope and forsake love, a man who does not even believe that the Land is real. In The Second Chronicles of Covenant the Unbeliever, he returned to the Land when it is threatened once more. In this, the first volume of The Last Chronicles of Covenant the Unbeliever, Donaldson once more transports us into a realm of supernatural vitality.

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Wed Jan 05 02:22:59 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

The Lair of Bones (Runelords)


Amazon writes:

Certain works of fantasy are immediately recognizable as monuments, towering above the rest of the category. They have been written by the likes of Stephen R. Donaldson, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind. Now add to that list David Farland, whose epic fantasy series began with The Runelords, continued in Brotherhood of the Wolf and the New York Times bestseller Wizardborn, and reaches its peak now in The Lair of Bones.


Unfortunately, Amazon is wrong. What started off as an interesting story buttressed by a creative take on the feudal system quickly fell victim to unncessary complications and simply authorial incompetence. The reader is asked to empathize with cardboard cutouts while the villians go through the motions of presenting a threat. The simple purity of rune magic could have offered a way to explore the complex moral questions of the feudal system, but instead fell to irrelevance in the face of more traditional magical systems.



The Lair of Bones amounts to little more than a superhuman dungeon crawl. The potential that was present in the first novel has by this point been squandered.

Wed Jan 05 02:22:39 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Smoke and Shadows

Smoke and Shadows is Tanya Huff's attempt to resurrect her Vicki Nelson Investigations series. This time, one of the bit characters from the earlier series is faced with a supernatural threat while working odd jobs on a movie set, and he must manage to respond to it without the benefit of Vicki's experience. His only ally is Henry, another of the original characters, and Henry has a problem with daylight...

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Wed Jan 05 02:22:30 CST 2005 by Anonymous. Comments

Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was almost universally panned by fans of the original trilogy, and deservedly so. Hopes, and expectations, were high following the smashing success of the earlier films and the intervening two-decade improvement in technology. What the fans received was not what they had desired: a children's movie that replaced many of the most popular elements with a cute kid and a racist portrayal of a repulsive amphibian.

But there is one redeeming virtue: Darth Maul's lightsaber duels. That's all that needs to be said. They are that good.

Tue Jan 04 19:19:42 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

I, Robot

I would not classify this as an adaptation of "I, Robot" for Asimov purists. Rather, it's an action-adventure set in Asimov's universe that happens to draw upon some of the characters from the stories. But as a stand-alone story, it's remarkably well done, better than most of what Hollywood produces by leaps and bounds. If the success of Lord of the Rings inspired this movie to cash in on the perceived new market, it worked and it worked well.

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Tue Jan 04 19:01:25 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell is an anime that has already attained classic status. It merges the potential for beautiful visualization of anime with a powerful storyline exploring philosophical questions. The resulting mix is a very impressive experience, and undoubtedly one of the best examples of the anime art form.

The original dialog is, of course, in Japanese. The translation has some awkardness and occasionally renders the details of the plot hard to follow, but not in a manner that detracts from the really interesting element: exploring the idea of the soul in a world where humans are gradually replacing more and more of their bodies with machines, and even brains can be hacked and reprogrammed.

This is definitely not an anime for the light-hearted and carefree. I highly recommend it.

Tue Jan 04 12:30:50 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Vampire Hunter D

Fans of the vampire genre and anime have both embraced Vampire Hunter D, the tale of a conflicted vampire hunter in a far-future world where a nobility made up of vampires rule a distinctly more supernatural and dangerous earth. A bizarre mix of magic and technology allows humans to hold their own against the monsters, but when especially powerful monsters are involved, they must turn to the specialists. Want to know about vampires? Ask a vampire hunter.

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Tue Jan 04 12:30:45 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

Joss Whedon's Firefly

Firefly is a TV series that ran for a single short season (12 episodes) before being canceled. The driving force behind it's creation was Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Angel fame), and it's received rave reviews from lots of libertarian types. As such, I thought I'd give it a try.

The series is set in the far future, focusing on the Firefly-class spacecraft Serenity and it's crew of criminals, smugglers, and generally ornery types. One of the recurring villians is the Alliance, which did some conquering in the backstory and in the series present plays the role of overbearing, aggressive government. If that wasn't enough to ensure a boycott from the politically-correct crowd, one of the recurring characters is a prostitute and the leading character casually shoots a cop during one of the early episodes.

Overall, I can understand both why the show was canceled and why it has been such a hit among libertarians. It's fairly well written, the actors aren't at all bad, and there is none of the "camp" feel of the Buffy series. There are some rough episodes, particularly those that didn't air, and you can bet the networks weren't getting any brownie points from the government for running the show. (This isn't widely publicized, but networks get government incentives to run certain kinds of propaganda; mostly anti-drug and anti-gun messages).

One of the elements that remained extremely jarring throughout the 12 episodes was the very western feel of all the action outside the ship itself. Brown leather, revolvers and lever-action rifles, horseback riding, and corrupt sheriffs are all present and accounted for. The concept worked well in some ways (thematically), but could have been much more subtle.

Overall, the series is worth watching through once. I won't rave about it because I don't think it's earned any raving; it deserves applause for presenting a libertarian setting in a favorable light, but it doesn't stand head-and-shoulders above everything else like Babylon 5 did.

Tue Jan 04 12:30:27 CST 2005 by matthew@infodancer.org. Comments

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