A Fire Upon the Deep
(Zones of Thought #1)
by Vernor Vinge (1993)
Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from super-intelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.
Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.
This is being read as the ‘Sword and Laser’ podcast pick for September. The last Vernor Vinge book I read was ‘Rainbows End’. This starts OK, but the plot really sags in the middle, I got bored with it and gave up.
So it’s with trepidation I started this book………
The start is OK, spaceships are destroyed and a family is abandoned on a planet to face a savage foe. Then the third person narrative switches to the aggressor. The language changes and all sorts of unnecessary words are thrown in that makes it a difficult read. Up until now I can follow the story, then we get another narrative by some unknown people in an unknown place.
The author just isn’t that good at setting up a situation and describing what is going on. Things start to drag and become boring. I persisted until 14% of this 203,000 word novel. Was I going to slog my way through the remaining 86% ?
Crucible (Ogmios Team Adventure #5)
by Steven Savile (2014)
1996, London. The Troubles are in full flow. A young Irish officer, Ronan Frost, is deep undercover inside an IRA cell in London. Something big is happening. Something devastating. Something that will shake the foundations of Anglo-Irish relations and make sure the peace process stalls.
The Ogmios Team doesn’t exist.
Sir Charles is not confined to a wheelchair.
This is where it all begins.
As I had read another Steven Savile book, I wasn’t too worried about being taken on a story that would waste my time. I gave his book ‘Immortal’ a 4/5 review.
This novel is a conventional thriller told in two parallel third person narratives.
It feels like an episode of a TV series like ‘The Professionals’, Sir Charles could be George Cowley. Boddy or Doyle any of the agents. Certainly well done, however it covers ground (UK-Irish troubles) that has been done a lot before.
This is episode five, supposedly an origins story, but for half the book it felt like being thrown in with established character I had just met. Reading the blurbs for the other four books, they appear to cover less conventional ground, so should be worth a read.
The Didymus Contingency
by Jeremy Robinson (2007)
When Dr. Tom Greenbaum faces that question after successfully discovering the secret to time travel, he knows the time, place and event he will witness: the death and failed resurrection of Jesus Christ. Dr. David Goodman, Tom’s colleague and closest friend follows Tom into the past, attempting to avert a time-space catastrophe, but forces beyond their control toss them into a dangerous end game where they are tempted by evil characters, betrayed by friends, pursued by an assassin from the future and haunted by a demon that cannot be killed.
This is Jeremy Robinson’s first book,not published until recently. It’s got all the characteristics of later books; action, suspense and evil villains. This is a time travel tale. Near the end things do get a bit to timey-whimey (trademark Dr Who) for my liking.
The interesting thing was his depiction of Jesus. In this book he is a big boisterous guy, outgoing and charismatic. In Ben-Hur (2016) he is a sniveling wretch, downtrodden and weak. Robinson’s Jesus makes more sense, you would expect the King of the Jews to be outgoing and a natural leader. I’m not sure if this mixture of religion and science fiction is meant to be taken too seriously, but I found humour and a touch of satire in what happens when the heroes of today meet iconic people from Judea.
Despite the inherent problems with time travel and the insertion of an unnecessary villain, it’s still a good read. Just don’t think too hard about the ‘rules’ of time travel and the nature of Jesus.
The Buccaneers’ Code
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #3
by Caroline Carlson (2013)
Hilary Westfield is now a freelance pirate. After trying to prove herself to the VNHLP, she realized many members of the League weren’t all that honorable—not even very nearly. With Captain Blacktooth in cahoots with the Mutineers, the kingdom of Augusta and all its magic are at risk.
What the League needs is a very honorable pirate to be their new president. So Hilary—with the help of her friends, including the always spirited gargoyle—challenges Blacktooth to a High Seas battle. Winner takes all. Loser, at best, will be exiled.
In the third book, villains become more villainous, magic has more prominence and things get a bit more silly. The writing is a sharp as ever, but some of the plot twists get a bit silly to support the notion that a young girl will defeat a bunch of (semi) professional pirates. Still, it’s a fun read and appears to bring the series to a close.
The Terror of the Southlands
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #2
by Caroline Carlson (2014) with Dave Phillips (Illustrations)
Hilary Westfield is a pirate. In fact, she’s the Terror of the Southlands! She’s daring, brave, fearless, and in a rut. Maybe she hasn’t found any treasure lately. And maybe she isn’t fighting off as many scallywags as she’d like. But does that mean she and her loyal crew (including a magical gargoyle) deserve to be kicked out of the ranks of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates?
There is only one thing to do—find a daring mission worthy of her fearless reputation. With the help of first mate Charlie, finishing-school friend Claire, and the self-proclaimed intrepid gargoyle, Hilary sets sail on a swashbuckling expedition that may or may not involve a kidnapped Enchantress, bumbling inspectors, a mysterious group called the Mutineers, and—the most terrifying thing of all—a High Society ball.
Now that she is a pirate, Hilary has to prove herself. It’s still the same whimsical style and more adventuring that swashbuckling. But the book almost manages to be as good as the first. And by the end her reputation as Terror of the Southlands is still intact.
Magic Marks the Spot
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1
by Caroline Carlson (2013)
Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors. She particularly enjoys defying authority, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.
For some reason I got this author confused with Gail Carson Levine. Aside from the similar name, the book cover is the same style. Levine wrote ‘Ella Enchanted’ that was made into a film and ‘A Tale of Two Castles’ which I read in 2012 and gave 4/5 stars.
This novel is obviously aimed at a teenage audience. Hilary, the main protagonist is a young girl (13-14) who manages to overcome obstacles and defeat her enemies using a combination of luck and persuasion.
The violence here is more like ‘The Princess Bride’ than a pirate film. The whole tone of the book is light and good natured. Even the ‘evil’ characters are self-aware of their villainy and mock others in very stereotypical pirate ways (haarrrr). The story moves along at a good pace and has enough twists and turns to ensure an unexpected ending.
One of the best part(s) of the book is the frequent insertion of letters, posters, manual excerpts and newspaper clippings. While they are done in the same style, it does provide an amusing third person view of the narrative. The mystery is how all the letters make their way between the main characters despite most of them being at sea. My guess would be pigeon post, or maybe the all the seas are small and hence shipping routes always close to shore.
It’s an enjoyable light and amusing read for teenagers of all ages.
Beneath (Origins, #3)
by Jeremy Robinson (2010)
When evidence of microscopic life on Europa–Jupiter’s sixth moon–is discovered, a crew of astronauts and scientists embark on a mission to discover its source. Led by oceanographer and biologist, Kathy Connelly, the crew is charged with the task of melting through miles of ice to the hidden ocean beneath, where the search for alien microorganisms begins. But a startling discovery awaits them on the surface of Europa–life.
After a string of mediocre books, it’s good to be back with an author who knows what he is doing. This story combines science fiction, action, horror and suspense. It’s up the the standard of his other books and the science is plausible (assuming life within our solar system is acceptable).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.