SpeculativeFiction


The Silver Gryphon

The Silver Gryphon (Mage Wars) is the third book in Lackey's Mage Wars trilogy, which itself is an attempt to fill in some major backstory to her Valdemar universe. It's not particularly memorable, and there are few ties to the larger world and story of Valdemar itself. Even if you've read the first two books in this trilogy, you're safe skipping this one. It's really bad, but in an inoffensive way.

Fri May 02 13:09:29 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

The Privilege of the Sword

I picked this up hoping for a mildly interesting tale of intrigue, and what I got was the renaissance through the eyes of a feminist who really, really wishes she could grow up to be a swordswoman. The Privilege of the Sword (Riverside) is not a bad book exactly; it's an unrealistic premise handled reasonably well with a light dose of intrigue and humor on top. Interesting, particularly for the attention to detail given to the fencing, but not very meaningful.

There is a sequel, Swordspoint (Riverside), which I really have no interest in reading.

Thu May 01 13:19:37 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

Ender's Game

It's a good short story that became a good book that produced a good series of books that eventually produced a good movie. A writer at the Independent Institute reviews Ender's Game through the prism of Hayekian liberty.

Categories Orson Scott Card

Fri Mar 14 04:40:41 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

The Cassandra Project

I've been a mild fan of Jack McDevitt's books for a while. He does soft science fiction with a decent sense of wonder pretty well, though there's usually a mild sour note here and there that keeps his books from being an entirely positive experience. The Cassandra Project fit that description for most of the book, which is essentially a "What if" take on the fake moon landings theory. But when I read the epilogue, I wanted to throw the book across the room.

If you skip the epilogue, you might enjoy the story of an unraveling conspiracy that manages to link the moon landings and the Watergate burglaries. As is typical of a McDevitt book, it's an almost entirely intellectual exercise; there's no sense of action or excitement, just a series of puzzles to figure out. That said, it is engaging if you are scientifically inclined or merely a fan of real-world space exploration.

That's about as much of a review I can give without spoilers.

Just don't read the epilogue.

Mon Mar 10 22:50:34 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

The Stars Came Back

An interesting independently published ebook, The Stars Came Back is a tale of space adventure with distinct military, political and moral themes. Stylistically, it occupies an unusual dialogue-heavy space somewhere between a novel and a screenplay; the author has mentioned that he originally wrote it as a screenplay and as it grew in length the style adjusted somewhat. Though written in a manner reminiscent of a Heinlein juvenile, it is not a coming-of-age tale; almost all of the characters are adults, though they still have room to grow and change.

It could perhaps be argued that it is a story of societal coming of age, but if so, it would only be the beginning of such a story.

The book has several flaws, most of which are pretty much par for the course with an independent ebook. The origin of the story as a screenplay is obvious, and frankly, the whole story would benefit from a rewrite to be consistently one style or the other. The conclusion of the story doesn't really conclude at all; there's a natural stopping point, followed by another shorter story that comes to it's own stopping point without actually concluding. It's fairly obvious from chapter divisions that the structure was intended as a two-hour pilot and a one-hour normal episode. A good rewrite would restructure those elements to flow more naturally.

That said, it's easy to overlook those details and get caught up in the story, which is a rare combination of easy reading and philosophical depth. Properly polished, this could become a classic. Lacking that last bit, however, it remains an enjoyable story well worth your time.

Sat Feb 15 12:20:12 CST 2014 by Matthew. Comments

Iron Sky

... it is impossible to take Space Nazis from the Dark Side of the Moon versus President Palin seriously. Fortunately, Iron Sky does not attempt it.

Tue Jan 21 03:05:09 CST 2014 by Matthew. Comments

Empathy Test

The assessor is attractive in a button-down kind of way. Blonde hair, pink jumpsuit, digital makeup set to minimal. Her face is a sculpt, something from one of the mid-level catalogues. Attractive, but not too attractive. The same face you see on a thousand other people. Only her eyes, brown and liquid, are original.

"You failed your empathy test, Mr. Clawford."

Read the whole thing.

Tue Jan 21 02:12:01 CST 2014 by Matthew. Comments

Who is Andrew Taylor Still?

He's the "famous Missourian" in first place on this official Missouri House of Representatives poll.

Robert Heinlein is currently in second place.

Put Heinlein in first place. Because science. Because science fiction. And because you've never heard of Andrew Taylor Still either.

Hat tip to The Smallest Minority.

Sun Nov 24 11:20:31 CST 2013 by Matthew. Comments

Gravity

Gravity, with Sandra Bullock in the lead role and George Clooney supporting, is an excellent movie for fans of science fiction, but as SF author Rosemary Kirstein points out (and beware spoilers behind that link), it is more science fact than science fiction. Though the events are fictional, the technology underpinning them is not. We have multiple space stations in orbit. We have people who work in space on a regular basis, if not continually. We have taken science fiction, and made it real. We have Star Trek communicators, Star Trek tricorders. We are working on self-driving cars (not quite ready yet!) and invisibility cloaks. We're doing all that with science, and this movie sticks reasonably close to what we know about science.




(Read More...)

Mon Oct 07 00:41:42 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

23 Years on Fire

A Cassandra Kresnov novel, 23 Years On Fire advances the clock a bit and brings some intriguing new ideas into the series. Although they are coming a little bit out of left field and strain plausibility somewhat, such small sins are easily forgiven in support of a good story and the philosophical questions that comes along with it.

The novel opens with Sandy leading a military raid on a Federation planet suspected of using mind-control implant technology on the population of an entire planet -- accidentally. That theme continues with the rest of the book, as the artificial intelligences on all sides learn exactly how capable they can be once fully grown up.

The plot is less centered on Sandy than usual, which leads to a couple of disjointed timeline and viewpoint shifts that can leave the reader briefly disoriented. As a result the book feels rougher and less polished than previous entries in the series. It is nonetheless an good read, with some revelations at the end that hint at an interesting new direction for the next book.

Readers who have been following the series will not be disappointed. Others should start with the first book, Crossover.

Thu Sep 26 03:14:57 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

The Given Sacrifice

The latest book in SM Stirling's Change series, The Given Sacrifice concludes the war against the Church Universal and Triumphant with a certain sense of anticlimax. While none of the events quite surprised me, I was left with a sense -- quite familiar to me from other recent books in this series -- that the author had overstretched his ability to maintain dramatic tension and that the events that have occupied the past three or four books in this series would have been better served to all take place within a single book. Compressing the narrative, if not necessarily the time scale, would make it easier for the reader to preserve the sense of risk and danger that has been rather lacking since Rudi retrieved the Sword of the Lady.

Spoilers below.

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Wed Sep 25 00:13:48 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

The Empire of Isher

The Empire of Isher (by AE Van Vogt) combines both The Weapon Shops of Isher and The Weapon Makers into a single edition. The combined work is still under 300 pages, but the sparse writing style means that a lot of action can be packed into those pages. While this edition was published in 2000, the stories themselves are noticeably dated. They are also unique and very hard to describe.
The Weapon Shops of Isher introduces us to the basic concept: shops that appear mysteriously in various locations and sell weapons to anyone who wants one and isn't a government official of some kind. These weapons are made of atomic unobtainium and operate by the advanced science of handwavology in a manner sufficiently indistinguishable to be called magic, and so I will. These magic guns are impossible to use offensively (because magic) and can protect the user from being shot by most modern energy weapons (because magic) but not bullets (because no one uses bullets anymore?).

The motto of the Weapon Shops is "The right to buy weapons is the right to be free."

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Sun Sep 22 22:08:20 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

Skirmishes

The latest book in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Dive series, Skirmishes interweaves three plots together: a past encounter at the Room of the Lost Souls, the beginning of Boss' attempt to dive the Boneyard and recover more working dignity vessels, and a confrontation between Cooper's two working dignity vessels and a larger force of ships from the Empire.

Readers will want to be caught up with the earlier works in this series, because it will make absolutely no sense standing alone.

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Fri Sep 20 13:10:22 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

Young Sentinels

Astra takes the lead of a new super-group, squaring off against the Green Man -- an environmental super-terrorist who causes super-accelerated plant growth. Nothing exceptional in this straightforward superhero novel, though readers might find the page count and the price tag somewhat at odds with each other.

This is the third novel in the Wearing the Cape series.

Wed Sep 18 01:17:07 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

Thieftaker

Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker, someone who is hired to find thieves and recover stolen property, in Boston during the time right before the Revolutionary War. His life is complicated by a rival thieftaker, Sephira Pryce, who is more like a female caricature of a mob boss than someone on the side of justice, and her ire at his being hired by a coveted rich client to investigate the murder of the client's daughter. I liked this book. I enjoyed the mix of the fantasy with the historical context. I obviously need to brush up on my American history, since aside from Samuel Adams and a mention of Revere, I had no idea who those supposedly historical figures were. The story was well done, and moved fast. The characters however, except for Ethan, were largely cardboard cutouts of people, not fully realized characters. The villains had no backstory to give some idea of why they went bad, they are just evil. That aside, this was a fun weekend read, and I'll be looking for the next book.

Mon Sep 02 10:05:56 CDT 2013 by storm2013. Comments

Valor's Trial

I'm fond of Tanya Huff's books. She has a dry sense of humor and a way with dialogue that often has me in giggles as I read. Humor was nowhere to be found in this book. Granted, the book is set in an underground alien cave prison, but still. The trek through the caves to escape the prison dragged on and on. It was deadly boring and tedious. The book wasn't awful, it's got good characters and a good story, but it was definitely the weakest of the series. I recommend this book only to fans of the series who want the continuation of the storyline.

Mon Sep 02 09:54:00 CDT 2013 by storm2013. Comments

Crossover

Meet April Cassidy. She's just applied to a software development firm on Tanusha, one of the most advanced planets in the Federation. She wants to work as a programmer, studying the intricacies of artificial intelligence -- or as close as the legal restrictions will allow her to get. She is a very good candidate for the position, very familiar with the latest algorithms. Good enough to analyze them at a glance in her job interview.

But that's not surprising, because April Cassidy is really Cassandra Kresnov, an advanced AI housed in a body nearly indistinguishable from human at first glance, and nearly indestructible if you do more than glance. She was built by the League, constructed from the ground up by scientists who consider her less than human. And she's on the run.

The book is Crossover, by Joel Shepherd.

(Read More...)

Thu Aug 29 11:26:34 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

The Immortal Prince

I wanted to like this book. Generally, I like Jennifer Fallon's books. I did not like this book. Actually, that's an understatement. This book constituted cruel and unusual torture. It started with the cat-men and dog-men servants. Please. The rest of the book was lengthy whining by the immortal guy about how he couldn't die no matter how hard he tried, and how he really wanted to end his existence. I'd like to end his existence too. Fallon is a good writer. She nails descriptions and characters and dialog. Nothing could save this book from dragging on and on like the immortals who can't die. Suffice it to say, that despite my best efforts, I couldn't make myself finish this book, and I don't care what happens to any of the characters.

Mon Aug 26 18:36:26 CDT 2013 by storm2013. Comments

Divergent

The premise of this novel is intriguing. What if you had to pick a faction to define the rest of your life - abnegation, candor, erudite, amity, or dauntless? And had to abide by that faction's traits, or be exiled? Of course it's a silly idea, because nobody embodies just one set of traits, but what if you could only choose one faction and had to live like that for the rest of your life? So, I picked up the book out of curiosity to explore that premise. That, and I like dystopian novels. This novel doesn't come close to the edge of my seat hold on me that the first Hunger Games book did, but it was still a good read. It was fast paced. The romance happened at a rather unlikely speed. I could have done without the romance at all, but I suppose Roth threw it in to draw teen girls or something. Events happened somewhat conveniently now and then to get the heroine out of a jam. It was very much a black and white world - the good characters were good, while the bad characters were bad. I enjoyed the gumption of Beatrice, and her determination to survive in her chosen faction and her determination to make things right, and her exhilaration at finding the fearless part of herself. The book has been made into a movie, to come out in March 2014, so it will be interesting to see how the screen version lives up to the book.

Sun Aug 25 20:10:29 CDT 2013 by storm2013. Comments

Blood Song (A Raven's Shadow)

I found Blood Song by Anthony Ryan to be a very ambitious novel. Ryan
packs a lot in, and probably more than necessary. The ending was rushed,
and a bit nonsensical at times. The book also raises shades of Name of
the Wind, in that the story is told to a scribe by the main character. I
found that to be uninspired. It's been done; making the scribe grumpy doesn't make it new and different. That said, I liked the book. The characters
were well fleshed out. Dialog was good. Pace and plot were fast. The
world was rich and detailed. It's a story of faith, family ties, politics, battles, sacrifices we make for those we love and for duty,and mysteries. There was just a lot there. I'm fairly sure I missed a lot the first time around,
and I'm going to have to reread the book to get it all. There's a time and a place for books that one has to reread many times to get all the layers to the story. While Blood Song is good, it's no Wheel Of Time.

Sun Aug 25 09:54:55 CDT 2013 by storm2013. Comments

Memnoch the Devil

Half vampire story and half theological argument, Memnoch the Devil takes Anne Rice's vampiric antihero Lestat and uses him to tell the Devil's side of the story. But the two halves of the story don't mesh very well at all, and while the process is intellectually interesting, readers can be assured they won't be missing much if they skip it.

Categories Anne Rice

Fri Aug 23 12:35:38 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

Synners

This 1990's cyberpunk story is a victim of time and history. When originally published, nobody really knew what the internet would look like, and people could make up whatever they wanted about humans merging with machines and it would seem at least plausible. Twenty-three years later, people are pretty sure what the Internet looks like and it's not what you find in Synners. That doesn't make it any less interesting to consider the implications of merging the human mind with computer-augmented virtual reality.

Thu Aug 22 08:26:20 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

Ship of Magic

Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders series opens with this book, Ship of Magic. Once again the author provides an unusual and emotional story. Readers already familiar with the Royal Assassin series will recognize the world, but the areas we know well are distant places while those we see up close are new and fresh. With one significant exception, the level of magic has been dramatically reduced from the earlier trilogy, and the result is a human tale of desperation rather than a fantasy adventure on the high seas.

The book is set in a community of sailors and shipwrights. The ships they build there are called liveships, crafted by human hands from special wood, their figureheads magically animated with spirit and personally, and bonded to a human being, the ships can't quite sail themselves but have a powerful influence on what happens to their crew nonetheless.

The heroine Althea in Ship of Magic stands to inherit her father's shipping business, along with the liveship Vivacia, which has been under construction for years and will take even more years to pay off -- but an untimely death changes everyone's plans. Surrounded by economic threats rather than the usual evil swordsmen or beastial creatures, she must struggle to keep her family's business alive while dealing with events that shattered all of her expectations for the future.

It's a situation that calls for desperate actions and high risks. Althea may not carry a sword or wield powerful magic, but she has wits, skills, and determination that may well be her salvation.

Categories Robin Hobb

Wed Aug 21 10:35:20 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

The Alchemist's Apprentice

Dave Duncan is an author I am familiar with from mainly from his King's Blades series, a straightforward and competently written set of mostly-independent tales of supernaturally bound bodyguards. The Alchemist's Apprentice takes a step closer to the real world, being set in a version of Venice where magic is somewhat more effective than in ours.

The alchemist of the title is Nostrademeus, and the apprentice one Alfeo Zeno, the latter being a character more reminiscent of a Dumas musketeer than anything else. When Nostrademeus is accused of a murder by poison to burnish his reputation, it falls to Alfeo to prove him innocent by unraveling the plot.

Unfortunately, I did not find the book as engaging as the King's Blades series. It was readable enough, in a somewhat unconventional setting for a fantasy novel, but lacked that vital something to make it intriguing.

Categories Dave Duncan

Tue Aug 20 16:46:31 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

Maps in a Mirror: The short fiction of Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card's Maps in a Mirror collects his short fiction. The collection is most notable for including the short story on which his Ender's Game series is based, but the others in the collection are nothing to be ashamed of. While some elements may seem dated to the modern reader (the collection was published in 1990), the stories are timeless, and the necessary focus of the short story format has some advantages.

This volume is for completist fans and literature professors.

Categories Orson Scott Card

Tue Aug 20 08:53:41 CDT 2013 by Matthew. Comments

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