Category Archives: Books

From Space

When They Came from Space
by Mark Clifton (1963)

The spacemen attacked with Earth’s own weapons: big bombs, brass hats & Hollywood press agents. The spacemen had mastered all the tricks of Hollywood press agency. They were conquering heroes, who had just saved the earth from destruction. They looked like men–young & handsome, brave but modest. They acted as if they wanted the whole world to like them. Two men knew it was too good to be true. One understood power, & could see that these visitors were experts in his own techniques of manipulating public opinion. The other man believed in the dignity of the human race, and hated to see people being fooled. He had to fight for his–& everyone’s–right to choose their own destiny.


Review

It starts OK, in first person narrative about an unfortunate person who is mistaken for someone else. Unfortunately it switches to third person in sections. This just allows the author to rant on about his personal problems with everyone else.

Too much of the story relies on a lot of people doing dumb things with only the main protagonist  knowing what is going on. All the exposition stretches out what should have been a short story to novel length. It’s not even funny. A lot of authors would have done better with the same material.

 

Whackadoodle

Whackadoodle Times
by Kim Antieau (2012)

Brooke McMurphy is having one helluva week. Brooke’s well-constructed dysfunctional life in Hollywood begins to unravel when a homeless woman comes to live with her and her family and the studio asks her to sex up her husband’s script for Zombie Town-the movie he believes will save the world. Then there’s the raging wildfires, earthquakes, and zombies, oh my! It may be just another week in Hollywood, but for Brooke, it could be the most important week of her life.


Review
The book starts out well, it’s written in first person and has a sharp, witty and sarcastic tone. Given the cover and blurb, I was expecting a comedic farce. And at first that is what it is. Brooke turns out to be a drunk, egotistical manic and soon it’s apparent she is an unreliable narrator. So the first half of the book is promising and fun. Then in the second half things change, the tone becomes more serious. Her relationship with son, daughter and (many) men comes to the fore and soon it loses it’s edge and becomes more of a romantic story with an attempt at an uplifting ending.
It’s not that the book is a failure. The writing shows some real narrative skill in prose, pacing and characters. But the author seems to be wanting to do too much in this short novel. The problem here is that the anticipation conveyed by the marketing and initial chapters just isn’t carried out to a fulfilling ending.

 

Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse Five
by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of Billy Pilgrim, from his time as an American soldier and chaplain’s assistant, to postwar and early years. It is generally recognized as Vonnegut’s most influential and popular work. A central event is Pilgrim’s surviving the Allies’ firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner-of-war. This was an event in Vonnegut’s own life, and the novel is considered semi-autobiographical.


Review:

This novel is supposed to be Vonnegut’s best work, funny and satirical. I found it neither.  As the main character keeps moving through time, there is no plot development. Things just happen and the indulgence of the writer is to fill-in and expand of each of the events in Billy Pilgrim’s life. It’s not badly written, the prose is usually sharp and to the point and at just over 50,000 words it’s a quick read, just not a very memorable one.

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam #1)
by Margaret Atwood (2004)

Oryx and Crake is a love story and vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.


Review:

This was read as it was recommended by the
Science Friday Podcast.

The story begins in some unknown place and time.
No information is given about the character of Jimmy/Snowman. Then, through flashbacks of his childhood his past is revealed. He is the child of genetic engineers. His mother has some mental problems (probably depression) but his father continues work, merging genetics to create unusual animals.

When he enters school he befriends Crake. Then about a third of the way through the book the narration turns in to focus on the character, the plot slows to a halt. At this point it becomes a chore to get through, boredom sets in and I gave up.

The Last Witcher

The Last Wish (Saga o Wiedźminie #1)
by Andrzej Sapkowski

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher.
A cunning sorcerer.
A merciless assassin.
And a cold-blooded killer.

His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world.

But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good. . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

The international hit that inspired the video game: The Witcher.


Review:

The only reason I am reading this is because it’s the Sword and Lazer pick for the month. I have never played the game and don’t intend to.
The author is Polish and the book has been translated to English. It’s a good translation, the prose is easy reading and despite large sections of story-telling by some characters, the plot moves nicely.

The book is a series of episodes where the Witcher encounters a situation or problem with a new set of characters, fixes things and moves on. Because of this there is no story arc or change to the character from start to end. Interesting, but not very satisfying.

 

 

Martian Monsters

Monsters of Mars
by Edmond Hamilton (1931)

So Mars has a civilization of man-like reptiles living on it (who knew). Our heroes have found a way of communicating with it the enables them to make a transporter device that moves things and people using radio waves. It sounds ridiculous, but this is from a 1930’s pulp magazine. In a strange way this is a precursor of the Star Trek Transporters, but without dilithium and a matter/anti-matter reactor. It all makes sense eventually and is a key plot point later in the story. You will be pleased to know that Mars has a breathable atmosphere and a gravity similar to earth. The shaky science doesn’t really detract from the story, as it’s all about how humans can out-wit those pesky aliens, plan a rescue and come home safely with 0.5 seconds to spare.

The novelette is about 15,000 words and moves at a brisk pace, keeping up the adventure aspect prominent and would surely appeal to the teenagers of the time.

Ichor Well

Ichor Well
by Joseph Lallo (2016)

Ichor Well is the third adventure in the Free-Wrench Series of Steampunk novels. Ever since Nita Graus left her homeland and joined the crew of the Wind Breaker, the reputation of the airship and its crew has been growing. The destruction of the mighty dreadnought, the escape from the legendary Skykeep, and  the inexplicable ability to remain hidden from the ever-watchful eye of the Fug Folk have combined to make her and her fellow crew the stuff of legend.

Alas, legendary heroes cannot exist for long without attracting a worthy villain. Luscious P. Alabaster strives to be just that foe. While he works his nefarious plans, the crew itself is not without turmoil. Captain Mack, already having survived far more years in the hostile skies than he had any right to expect, is making plans for his golden years. The crew is gradually learning all that Nita can teach them, leaving her with the looming decision of whether or not she still has a place among the crew.

Before the matter of the future can be settled, the crew has the problems at hand to solve. And in escaping the webs woven by the cunning and eccentric Alabaster, they may discover the darkest secrets the churning and toxic Fug has to hide.


Review:

The first book of the series (Free-Wrench) I rated a five star book, the second got a four star and this one gets three stars. Things seem to be heading downwards faster than a deflated airship.

The problem is that the first half of the book was just too slowly paced. Things pick up in the second half when the action finally happens. What this book needs is a good editor to trim the excessive talking as there is rather a lot of it in the first half.

The story is just OK, but suffers from not enough plot to make it interesting. The best part of the story is the mustache twirling villain of Luscious P. Alabaster. Maybe over the top and without depth, he gives the book a fun tone and offsets the darker themes.

Overall it feels like a novella stretched out to novel length, an average read.

Desmeres Lumineblade

The Redemption of Desmeres
(The Book of Deacon)
by Joseph R. Lallo (2016)
The Redemption of Desmeres is a sidequest in The Book of Deacon Saga.

Desmeres Lumineblade always prided himself on his pragmatism, clarity, and focus. These qualities made him the maker of the finest weapons ever created, and even helped end the Perpetual War. But some choices leave scars on even the steadiest mind, and now the time has come to find balance for his less heroic deeds.

For the first time in his life, Desmeres finds himself without purpose or direction. He has no doubt that every last decision made over his long life, whether the others viewed it as heroic or heinous, has been intelligent and necessary. But as the world recovers from its greatest trial, he finds his mind muddled and filled with uncertainty. For one who has already made himself the enemy of the Elite—the finest warriors of the Alliance Army—such distraction could cost him his freedom, or even his life.

 

Review:

This is a better story than ‘The D’Karon Apprentice’. The major reason is that it doesn’t follow the fantasy troupe of ‘hero’ vs evil. The two main characters are well portrayed from the start. Most of the book consists of Desmeres fighting his past and Genara looking for a new future. Because of it’s structure, the story is engaging and the end is not predetermined (until the end). Unfortunately near the end a rather simplistic villain is introduced. The book would have been better without him.

 

2nd Satellite

The Second Satellite
by Edmond Hamilton (1930)

This novelette comes from the August 1930 issue of ‘Astounding Stories of Super-Science’, one of the pulp-era science fiction magazines.

Two pilots travel by plane to another world, orbiting the earth between the earth and moon (!). There they find two civilizations of men and frog-men. As silly as it sounds, this is a well written and exciting adventure from the golden age. Sure,  science and biology makes no sense but Hamilton shows why he was one of the great writers of this era.

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.