SpeculativeFiction


A Wastrel's Tale

A Wastrel's Tale is (probably) the first book in a swords and sorcery zombie apocalypse series. The story revolves around a member of an order dedicated to fighting necromancy with the use of arms and specialized magic, yet for decades now there have been but few necromancers. Indeed, only one of any notable talent or skill, and that one in captivity. An ideal condition for a third son who would dearly love to spend his life training, drinking, and wenching, no? Unfortunately, duty is about to call...

Fans of the author, RW Krpoun, will get more of what they are used to: a literary interpretation of the sort of adventure they are used to getting with a side of dice. Unlike the new "LitRPG" genre, though, the story is taken seriously without interruptions for stats while the characters think about leveling up. Just good, solid adventure with interesting characters. The setting is a little generic, but time may improve that, and those elements close to the story are creative and fleshed out.

Categories RW Krpoun

Wed Jun 27 13:51:28 CDT 2018 by Matthew. Comments

An Airless Storm

An Airless Storm follows up on the adventures of Andrew Cochrane and his security service of interstellar mercenaries. Following their initial success in funding their operations, the company has ordered more ships and larger ships. But their enemies are doing the same. The book has the same vaguely Heinlein-juvenile feel, and the plot armor is less perfect. Mostly it represents an improvement, but the ratio of people talking about their plans and engaging in covert operation shenanigans versus space battles is still pretty high. The characters are also a bit weak, with most of them feeling like masks the narrator is wearing. That's one of the fundamental risks of delivering information to the reader through characters having conversations, but it takes a bit of skill to hide.

Tue Jun 26 13:18:42 CDT 2018 by Matthew. Comments

The Stones of Silence

Peter Grant's new novel, The Stones of Silence, is set in his science-fiction universe, sharing it with his two other series starting with Take the Star Road and War to the knife). The setup for his new series is interesting, but shares the flaws of the earlier works. In particular, the protagonist appears to wear plot armor. While his efforts to be prepared justify the resulting success, it significantly reduces the sense of peril -- not to mention the sense of realism. The story remains entertaining, but lacks a certain vigor and immediacy.

Stylistically, it's a cross between a Heinlein juvenile and one of David Webber's Honor Harrington books, except not quite as good as either.

Sun Jun 24 13:22:14 CDT 2018 by Matthew. Comments

Interstellar

The one-line review is that Interstellar is the movie that 2001 should have been. It has a mysterious anomaly orbiting Saturn, a realistic depiction of a space mission to investigate and explore. But it also has so much more: incredible, moving performances from the leading actors and actresses, an emotional investment on both the personal and the species level, strange and wonderful and terrible things to find, and a powerful human drama that plays out across that background.

The movie is not without flaws. It starts slowly. There's some emotional tearjerking (effective, but manipulative). The hard science approach sort of devolves in the ending. And I can't really talk a lot about the plot without spoiling it. But it's a good movie, highly recommended, very pretty, very inspiring, with a few subtle hints of conservative-leaning politics.

Wed Jun 13 03:21:35 CDT 2018 by Matthew. Comments

Brief Cases

Brief Cases by Jim Butcher is a collection of short stories in the very popular Dresden Files series, named for the central character Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard -- or at least the only one with an ad in the phone book. I don't normally go in for short story collections, but occasionally with an established universe my completionist instincts will kick in. In this case I had already read Side Jobs, a similar collection by the same author in the same universe.

If you liked one, you'll probably like the other; perhaps even too much, because they share at least one story in common. Despite that there was enough new material to be interesting, including some time with the camera focused on the smaller characters. There's an adorable story featuring Harry's daughter and his dog Mouse at the zoo, with carefully layered viewpoints from everyone, including the dog. There are two Molly stories (one new), and one detailing Butters' first excursion as a polka loving medical examiner and [spoiler].

If you're a fan of the universe already and you enjoy short story collections, there's content to enjoy here. My only caveat is that $15 (as of this posting, in the Kindle Edition) is a bit steep for a collection of short stories where not all the content is new, even when the total page count runs to 450 pages.

Tue Jun 12 00:35:59 CDT 2018 by Matthew. Comments

On the Shoulders of Titans

A sequel to Sufficiently Advanced Magic, On the Shoulders of Titans manages to significantly complicate the plot. The number of characters who may not be trustworthy or whose interests may lie in a direction other than that of their allies grows to very nearly equal the number of characters in the book. Thankfully, the "magic school" elements of the plot are reduced almost to insignificance; the main character barely attends class and spends only a limited amount of time on screen taking tests. Which probably explains why he isn't doing so well in school, despite having powerful friends (met as a results of events in the first book) basically tutoring him.

There's still a little bit of the annoying tendency to preach about gender and sexuality, and the main character doesn't seem to know if he should be attracted to men (his friend Jin, who asked him to a dance and then betrayed him) or women (Cecily, the girl to whom he has been betrothed for years, but has mostly fallen out of contact with), and the one annoyingly genderless "they/them".

That said, there's a lot of other interesting stuff to keep you reading. There's not going to be a lot of emotional depth or impact, despite the author's hints at an abusive father and absent mother and post-traumatic stress disorder, but there will be intellectually interesting magic and challenges to overcome.

Consistently interesting, if not consistently entertaining.

Mon Jun 11 02:00:00 CDT 2018 by Matthew. Comments

Sufficiently Advanced Magic

What do you get when you combine an interesting magic system, a lot of influence from video games, a competent but emotionally distant author, a dash of gender ambiguity, a token pinch of political preaching, and yet another book about a child who goes to magic school? Apparently, you get a pretty good stew of a book (Sufficiently Advanced Magic) that's enjoyable to read, intellectually interesting, and only rarely makes me want to throw it against the wall for brief periods.

Folks, this is why people hate message fiction: it throws you out of the story, it's pointless, it's irrelevant, and it can ruin the reader's enjoyment of an otherwise perfectly good book. For example, in this review I could be writing about how the magic system is pretty unique and detailed enough to build most of the book around, or how the main character is saddled with an unusual set of abilities that force him to rely on preparation and thought rather than simple brute force, or the interesting implications of having a level system that relies on entering what is effectively a series of video games with puzzles, fights, and similar ideas that must be solved or overcome to gain more power.

But, instead, I feel like I have to write about the fact that the main character is mostly asexual, but possibly gay, and that his society has apparently eliminated all conception of how sexual relationships usually work to the point that a male inviting another male to a dance is completely shrugged off as normal when it only takes up a page or so of the book. (It's clearly being set up as some kind of long term love interest, though). It's not bad, but it feels preachy and messagey, and there's a passage early in the second book which is explicitly preachy and messagey. It's like trying to eat your stew, savoring the interesting taste of each element, and finding an ice cube in your spoon occasionally.

They don't taste bad, necessarily, but they don't taste good either, and you sort of wonder why they are there.

Mon Jun 11 01:34:36 CDT 2018 by Matthew. Comments

Bulgaria's Vampire Graveyards

Mon Jun 11 01:33:19 CDT 2018 by Matthew. Comments

Complex organic molecules found on Mars

Washington PostIn puffs of gas from rocks more than 3 billion years old dug up by one of NASA's robotic explorers on Mars, scientists have identified several complex organic molecules — possible building blocks for ancient life.

But it is “consistent with the past presence of biology,” said Ken Williford, an astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “And it makes us more confident that if biomarkers” — or direct evidence of biologic activity — “are there, we might find them.”

This is all battlespace prep for the announcement that Michael Valentine has been living in a secure undisclosed location for decades.

Categories Space

Fri Jun 08 01:17:33 CDT 2018 by Matthew. Comments



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