Category Archives: Books

End of All Things

The End of All Things (2015)
(Old Man’s War #6)
by John Scalzi

The direct sequel to 2013’s The Human Division

Humans expanded into space…only to find a universe populated with multiple alien species bent on their destruction. Thus was the Colonial Union formed, to help protect us from a hostile universe. The Colonial Union used the Earth and its excess population for colonists and soldiers. It was a good arrangement…for the Colonial Union. Then the Earth said: no more.

Now the Colonial Union is living on borrowed time—a couple of decades at most, before the ranks of the Colonial Defense Forces are depleted and the struggling human colonies are vulnerable to the alien species who have been waiting for the first sign of weakness, to drive humanity to ruin. And there’s another problem: A group, lurking in the darkness of space, playing human and alien against each other—and against their own kind —for their own unknown reasons.


Review:

Here is the problem:  John Scalzi is a great author. He is often compared to Robert Heinlein. I would argue he is better. This ‘book’ is actually four novellas strung together. They tell the same story from a different perspective. The trouble is that once into, and invested in the characters of the first novella, it just stops and you get another set of characters you have to place and work out who they are. The principle character is  Rafe Daquin, a pilot who gets abducted and his brain is detached and used to operate a space ship (shades of Anne McCaffrey’s ‘The Ship who Sang’). He starts the story, is there when it ends and is by far the most interesting character. If the story had been told from his POV, it could have been more interesting. And it could have missed the second more political and slower second novella.

However it’s still Scalzi at his best and an entertaining read, although I did skip his ‘alternative’ ending.

 

John Justin Mallory

Mike Resnick
The John Justin Mallory Mysteries

#1 Stalking the Unicorn (1987)
It’s 8:35 pm on New Year’s Eve, and Private Detective John Justin Mallory is hiding out in his Manhattan office to avoid his landlord’s persistent inquiries about the unpaid rent. As he cheerlessly reflects on the passing of a lousy year, which saw his business partner run off with his wife, he assumes the bourbon is responsible for the appearance of a belligerent elf. This elf informs him that he needs the detective’s help in searching for a unicorn that was stolen from his charge. When Mallory realizes the little green fellow is not going to disappear with the passing of his inebriation, he listens to the elf’s impassioned plea that the stolen magical beast must be returned to his care by daylight or his little green life will be forfeited by the elves’ guild.

#2 Stalking the Vampire (2008)
It’s Halloween, and John Justin Mallory’s partner, Winnifred Carruthers, has been so busy preparing for the biggest holiday of the year (in this Manhattan, anyway) that she seems short of energy and pale. Mallory is worried that she’s been working too hard. Then he notices the two puncture marks on her neck.

#3 Stalking the Dragon (2009)
It’s Valentine’s Day and private detective John Justin Mallory is planning on closing up the office early and taking his partner, Col. Winnifred Carruthers, out to dinner, since he’s sure no one else will do so. But before he can turn off the lights and lock the door,
a panic-stricken Buffalo Bill Brody visits them. It seems that the Eastminster pet show is being held the next day, and his dragon, Fluffy, the heavy favorite, has been kidnapped.

These three Mike Resnick books are not too long (about 70-80,000 words). Call it urban fantasy with heaps of 1930’s style detective fiction. Everyone has an attitude problem and the dialog zings about like a parody of the style. It’s witty and fun, most of the plot is just a device to hang some fun writing on. At times it gets a bit too much into the Piers Anthony territory. But otherwise here are three lightweight and fun humorous fantasy books to enjoy.

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy (1875)

The novel was published in serial installments from 1875 to 1877 in the periodical ‘The Russian Messenger’. Tolstoy clashed with editor Mikhail Katkov over political issues that arose in the final installment therefore, the novel’s first complete appearance was in book form in 1878. Widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction, Anna Karenina recounts St. Petersburg aristocrat Anna Karenina’s life story at the backdrop of the late-19th-century feudal Russian society. Having considered War and Peace not a novel, Tolstoy considered Anna Karenina his first true novel. Fyodor Dostoyevsky declared it “flawless as a work of art.” His opinion was shared by Vladimir Nabokov, who especially admired “the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s style,” and by William Faulkner, who described the novel as “the best ever written.” The novel remains popular, as demonstrated by a 2007 poll of 125 contemporary authors in Time, which declared that Anna Karenina is the “greatest book ever written.”


After reading ‘War and Peace’ on a Palm Pilot over the 2008 winter, I had anticipated also reading this novel. However the public broadcast of the 2012 film by Joe Wright was an alternative and shorter means of absorbing the story.

A lot of the story takes place on in a theatre, with actors changing the scenery between each scene. It’s a device not seen before and at first is a novelty but soon becomes distracting.

The best part of the film is the production design, costumes and score. The music really takes over at times, making the film a visual and audio feast for the senses. However the main problem is the story. This is surprising given the screenplay by Tom Stoppard. There is never a sense of involvement with characters. Their backgrounds and motivations are not clear and the result is that the story comes across as a cheap melodrama.

Having red War and Peace, I know that Tolstoy put more into his books than this. Maybe the story would be better told as a miniseries. There have already been seven TV adaptions, so maybe one of these is better than the film.

In the end this film it was a case of style over substance and after an hour it became boring and I gave up.

Recommendation: Read ‘War and Peace’

The Dark Lord

The Dark Lord’s Handbook (2008)
The Dark Lord’s Handbook #2: Conquest (2014)

by Paul Dale

It’s not easy being evil. To become a Dark Lord is hard. The simple ambition to hold dominion over the world and bend all to your will sounds straightforward but it’s not. There are armies to raise, fortresses to build, heroes to defeat, battles to be fought, hours of endless soliloquy in front of the mirror – it’s a never ending job.

So starts this second book of Morden’s rise to dominate all. It’s all from the point of view that ‘evil’ is just another valid point of view. Having someone in charge is the natural way of things. The only question is – who will that be.

There was a great deal of wit and sarcasm in this story, and the author uses many of the classic fantasy swords and sorcery cliches. At 161,000 words the second book is long, but worth the length (5/5 evil laughs).

Quotes from ‘The Dark Lord’s Handbook’
The enemy of my enemy is also my enemy. A dark lord has no friends.
Keep your friends close and your enemies dead.

 

Elvenquest

Fancy a spot of sword fighting, rescuing maidens and defeating evil warlords. All this (and more) doesn’t happen in Elvenquest, a comic fantasy audiodrama from the BBC.

Written by by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto, and starring Stephen Mangan, Alistair McGowan, Darren Boyd, Kevin Eldon, Sophie Winkleman and Dave Lamb.

This is a parody of Middle-earth and just about all fantasy stories.
In Lower Earth, a band of warriors go forth to search for a mythical sword to save Lower Earth from the evil Lord Darkness. In order to do so, they must find “The Chosen One” who will save Lower Earth. The Chosen One is Amis, a dog in the real world which belongs to a fantasy novelist called Sam Porter.

There are four series, broadcast from 29 March to 3 June 2009 to the last on 12 February 2013.

Very funny, very recommended, very silly.

 

 

D’Karon

The D’Karon Apprentice
By Joseph R. Lallo
(2015)

In the months following The Battle of Verril, great strides have been made to heal the rift between the Northern Alliance and Tressor. The peace between the nations, however, is a fragile one, and the awakening of an ancient enemy threatens to spark a new conflict that could undo all that the Chosen have achieved.


Review:

I have read The Book of Deacon Trilogy (2010-2011) and Jade (2011). These I rated highly, especially Jade that I regarded as one of the best fantasy stories in recent years.

However this book has issues. But first, the good things. His writing has improved since Deacon, where there were problems with large battle scenes making sense. In this book the best aspect was the action scenes. These come across clearly and with a good sense of excitement. Secondly, despite being a long book (169,000) words it has good pacing. The story was always moving along and things happening.

Now, the problems.
First, it’s best to read this book immediately after the Deacon Trilogy. I read this three years ago and was having trouble remembering all the characters and their motivations. These could have been explained better at the start.

Then there is the magic. Is there method here, or is it just all plotonium ?

Things happen that make little sense. Where does all this energy that can destroy buildings come from and why can a supposedly human character survive all this destruction.

The story is very simple: Our heroes have to stop an evil wizard.
It’s a bit like the fighting scene where our hero takes on a dozen Ninjas, with each one coming at him (or her) separately. If they could just co-ordinate their attack he wouldn’t stand a change. And with this book there is never a sense of co-ordination. Shouldn’t someone be trying to discover the weaknesses of their opponent. Rallying the forces, defending the walls and finding secrets. Everyone seems to be reacting to events, not making thing happen. There are a lot of missed opportunities here.

It would have been better if the ‘evil one’ was dealt with in the first half of the story and the second half dealt with the unforeseen consequences.

It’s not that it’s a bad book, just a disappointment after the Deacon Trilogy and Jade.

Immortal

Immortal
by Steven Savile (2014)

A man awakens in a filthy bedroom with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. Seeing an old Gideon bible on a nightstand, he finds a name to call his own – Temple. Immortal is the story of Temple’s quest for identity and purpose in a dying, decaying world. He is no romantic knight, no Sir Gawain, he has no sword and no armour, and in this broken world no one he can trust. He turns his back on everyone and everything as he embarks upon the quest for his own Holy Grail, and tempted by demons and gods every step of the way, he must confront the terrible truth about who he is and how he came to wake up in that damned hotel room.

I’m giving this book 4/5 but I’m not sure why.

First, it’s post-apocalyptic horror, not a genre I have read much of. I am not a fan of horror fiction, however this story was strangely compelling. The character of Temple is uncertain. Is he a terrorist, saint, soldier or just a normal guy. It’s not clear until the end. Then there is the vivid but horrific world he wakes to. It’s very detailed but sick, mutated and scary. I certainly wouldn’t want to be there. But ultimately it’s the journey the character takes  that pulls you through the story.

 

Khalakovo

The Winds of Khalakovo
(Lays of Anuskaya #1)
by Bradley P. Beaulieu (2011)

Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo’s eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo’s future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo.

Firstly, this is long.. how long ?
The first book of this trilogy is 180,000 words. The second is 233,000 and the third is 204,000. Second, it’s very Russian. People and places have Russian styles names. How do you pronounce them ? Who Knows ?

So it better be good……. well…….. it’s not badly written. But after 20% of the first novel I have given up. The problem is partly all those Russian names (the main protagonist has two !). Then there is the slow pace and all that talking (and no action) that goes on. The only noteworthy action I read of was a hanging. But ultimately it doesn’t grip or intrigue the reader. It’s just flat and after a while it feels like work rather than pleasure.

 

 

Linda’s Memory

Memory
By Linda Nagata (2010)

A quest, a puzzle, and multiple lives: On an artificial world with a forgotten past, floods of “silver” rise in the night like fog, rewriting the landscape and consuming those caught in its cold mists. Seventeen-year-old Jubilee knows that no one ever returns from the silver–but then a forbidding stranger appears, asking after her beloved brother, lost long ago to a silver flood. Could he still be alive? And why does the silver rise ever higher, threatening to drown the world? Jubilee pursues the truth on a quest to unlock the memory of a past reaching back farther than she ever imagined.

This was  a strange  experience to read. The plot can be exceedingly slow, normally I would abandon such a book. But somehow it just kept drawing me on. Essentially it’s a long road movie, a quest to understand what’s happening to a world. Having read the ‘Red’ series; this is like a completely different author. Maybe it’s an early book (it could do with a good edit as it’s about 130,000 words long) with a different voice. I would only recommend this to someone who  has read and enjoyed other Linda Nagata novels.

2015 Nebulas

 

Novel

Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)

The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
My Review

Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Started the first book, never finished it

The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)

Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Read it, would recommend it

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)

Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)
Novella

Wings of Sorrow and Bone, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
“The Bone Swans of Amandale,” C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
“The New Mother,” Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn,” Usman T. Malik (Tor.com 4/22/15)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
“Waters of Versailles,” Kelly Robson (Tor.com 6/10/15)

Novelette

“Rattlesnakes and Men,” Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead,” Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
“Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
“The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society,” Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
“The Deepwater Bride,” Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
“Our Lady of the Open Road,” Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)

Short Story

“Madeleine,” Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
“Cat Pictures Please,” Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
“Damage,” David D. Levine (Tor.com 1/21/15)
“When Your Child Strays From God,” Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
“Today I Am Paul,” Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)

 

And the Winners Are:

Novel

  • Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)

Novella

  • Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)

Novelette

  • ‘‘Our Lady of the Open Road’’, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)

Short Story

  • ‘Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’’, Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)