Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Eye on New Releases for July 28, 2015

 (B&N, Amazon)

"Words are weapons.  Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. If she is to reclaim her birthright, she must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge.

Only half a war is fought with swords.  The deeply cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king’s minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace. But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God, and put Bright Yilling at its head—a man who worships only Death.

Sometimes one must fight evil with evil.  Some — like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith — are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others — like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver—would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her irons wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness."

"A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden-and of war. Colossal plant-eaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meat-eaters like Allosaurus, and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from bat-sized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Mil├ín's splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…except the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engage in battle. During the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac-and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: Aurora

by Kim Stanley Robinson

Format: Hardcover, 471 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Cover Art: Kirk Benshoff
Release Date: July 7, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780316098106

"A major new novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.  Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.

Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.   Now, we approach our destination.  A new home.  AURORA.".
As you may infer from the blurb, Earth sends a colony ship carrying about two thousand people and assorted plants and animals to the star Tau Ceti.  The ship manages to get up to a tenth of the speed of light and since Tau Ceti is just under 12 light-years away it takes about 180 years to get there.  The story starts just before the colonists arrive.

The story mainly follows the life of Freya, daughter of the main engineer, however it is narrated by the ship's artificial intelligence.  If you think that sounds bland, you would be right, but only at first. The A.I. gets better as it learns and becomes perhaps something more.  In a way, the story is almost as much about the A.I. as it is about the people. 

Like many of KSR's previous books, the importance of the story is less about the individuals than about the broader issues regarding technology, biology, and sociology.  The most obvious is of course what happens when we try to colonize an alien world.  The colonists come prepared, but in the end there's no way to be completely prepared for a different planet.  There is also what happens when locked inside a small biosphere like a ship.  The biology aspect is a big part of it, but also how a small society might work or not socially and politically. 

While I really enjoyed this book, I did end up docking it half a rating point because I disagree with KSR on what he seems to be saying about human exploration and colonization.  Basically, that...
humans probably shouldn't be going out into space.  It seems like he's saying that any spread out from our home world will be difficult if not impossible given that Earth's biosphere is unique and being cut off from it, especially on another planet, means any venture might be doomed to fail.  I don't agree with that because we won't know until we actually try.  I do agree though we do need to work on fixing the problems here at home, but that doesn't mean we can't also explore.

So, like Dark Eden this book takes a fascinating, and perhaps timely, concept and runs with it to see what happens.  I may not agree with what KSR is ultimately saying, but Aurora was certainly a very enjoyable read.  Strongly recommended.

Rating: 8.5/10.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Releases for July 14, 2015

 (B&N, Amazon)

"In the first century A.D., during Domitian's reign, Flavia Albia is ready for a short break from her family. So despite the oppressive July heat, she returns to Rome, leaving them at their place on the coast. Albia, daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, the famed private informer (now retired), has taken up her father's former profession, and it's time to get back to work. The first order of business, however, is the corpse that was found in a chest sent as part of a large lot to be sold by the Falco family auction house. As the senior family representative in Rome, it falls upon Albia to identify the corpse, find out why he was killed, who killed him, and, most important, how did it end up in the chest.

At the same time, her potential young man, Faustus, comes looking for help with his friend Sextus's political campaign. Between the auction business and Roman politics, it's not quite clear which one is the more underhanded and duplicitous. Both, however, are tied together by the mysterious body in the chest, and if Albia isn't able to solve that mystery, it won't be the only body to drop."

 (B&N, Amazon)

"Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she's been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science"

 (B&N, Amazon)

"Forty years after the God Wars, Dresediel Lex bears the scars of liberation-especially in the Skittersill, a poor district still bound by the fallen gods' decaying edicts. As long as the gods' wards last, they strangle development; when they fail, demons will be loosed upon the city. The King in Red hires Elayne Kevarian of the Craft firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to fix the wards, but the Skittersill's people have their own ideas. A protest rises against Elayne's work, led by Temoc, a warrior-priest turned community organizer who wants to build a peaceful future for his city, his wife, and his young son.

As Elayne drags Temoc and the King in Red to the bargaining table, old wounds reopen, old gods stir in their graves, civil blood breaks to new mutiny, and profiteers circle in the desert sky. Elayne and Temoc must fight conspiracy, dark magic, and their own demons to save the peace-or failing that, to save as many people as they can."

 (B&N, Amazon)

"Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014.

Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her."

 (B&N, Amazon)

"Fraternal twins Nels and Suvi move beyond their royal heritage and into military and magical dominion in this flintlock epic fantasy debut from a two-time Campbell Award finalist.

Prince Nels is the scholarly runt of the ancient Kainen royal family of Eledore, disregarded as flawed by the king and many others. Only Suvi, his fraternal twin sister, supports him. When Nels is ambushed by an Acrasian scouting party, he does the forbidden for a member of the ruling family: He picks up a fallen sword and defends himself.

Disowned and dismissed to the military, Nels establishes himself as a leader as Eledore begins to shatter under the attack of the Acrasians, who the Kainen had previously dismissed as barbarians. But Nels knows differently, and with the aid of Suvi, who has allied with pirates, he mounts a military offensive with sword, canon, and what little magic is left in the world."

"It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.

After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between 17 million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed."

Note: I reviewed the UK version of this book a while back.  The review is here.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: Uprooted

by Naomi Novik

Format: Hardcover, 439 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Cover Art: Scott McKowen
Release Date: May 19, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0804179034

"Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose."

Uprooted is a fairly well written and compelling fairytale story.  The world is compelling as well, and seems to be derived from the author's Polish ancestry instead of the usual Western European tradition. 

One of the interesting things about this novel is that while the story is basically a fairytale, the author gives the characters complexity to make it much interesting.  With the exception of the Wood, no one in this story is black and white.  And nowhere is this more evident than in the relationship between the main character and her best friend.  Their friendship is probably the core of the novel and it remains strong despite how much the two of them change.  

For all the praise this novel has been getting, I ended up not liking this as nearly as much as everyone else seemed to.  I had two big problems with Uprooted.  First was the plot.  A fairytale benefits from a single, straightforward structure, and while Uprooted does keep to the single plot of the struggle against the Wood, there are numerous sub-plots that bog the story down.  This book is nearly 440 pages and it feels way too long.  Also, the basis for the Wood's corrupting influence feels a bit out of left field, though I suppose it works.  

Secondly, the magic doesn't make much sense.  I could never figure how it was suppose to work.  My personal opinion is that a magic system should have some kind of rules and it does after a fashion, but it feels like Novik never uses it consistently. 

The main character's use of magic is another problem.  A big deal is made about how the main character can't be trained to use magic like everyone else because she can only go by instinct and intuition.  A lot of people liked this bit, but it really annoyed me.  Especially when she blithely ignores centuries of accumulated magical knowledge on the basis that most of it is useless to her.  It just feels like another excuse to make the character special. 

So, while Uprooted was only a decent read for me, I always give a book points because I can acknowledge that it works for others. In fact, I seem to be much in the minority on this one and that's fine.  Maybe Novik no longer works for me as an author, but plenty of people do seem to enjoy this book so on that basis I can recommend it.

Rating: 7/10.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: mini-reviews of Slow Bullets, The Whispering Muse, The Mechanical, and Station Eleven

Soldiers, criminals, and others are put into sleep capsules on a spaceship, but are awoken when the ship begins to break down.  As the ship continues to fail, everyone must work together to create a new society. 

This being a novella instead of the usual time spent building up his world, Reynolds pretty much throws the reader right into things so it takes a little while to get into the story, but once you do, it's a good read.  The title refers to implants given to soldiers that contain their life histories, and as the ship fails and computer memory becomes precious, the characters must decide if they'll hold onto their past or look to the future. 

Rating: 8/10.
In 1949, an eccentric Icelandic scholar who accepts an invitation on a cargo ship sailing to the Black Sea.  Among the crew is the mythical Caeneus disguised as the second mate who, every evening, regales the crew and other travelers with tales of Jason and the Argonauts. 

While this sounds like an interesting story, it actually turned out be a little disappointing.  The storytelling bit only rehashes the mythology so any reader who is evenly remotely familiar with them will not find anything new.  The main plotline itself doesn't go anywhere either and finishes with a rather confusing climax. Overall, an average read that some may find interesting, but more well-rounded readers may want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 6.5/10.

In an alternative historical faux-steampunk world where a Dutch empire has come to control much of the planet thanks to mechanicals (i.e. robots), three people, a French spymaster, a priest, and the mechanical of the title, struggle for their freedom. 

The Mechanical is Ian Tregillis' latest work and has very intriguing premise:  Mechanicals were created by the Dutch using magic and alchemy in the middle 17th Century.  As we learn from the one POV character, the mechanicals are slaves, forced by geasa to do their masters' bidding.  However, things change when one is freed from his mental bondage.  It's very creative, though I didn't find it quite as interesting as the author's previous trilogy, the Milkweed Triptych.  Milkweed also had a point of view from the other side  and I would have liked a larger view of the world to see how plausible it is.  Anyhow, I'm looking forward to the next book. 

Rating: 8/10.

An aging actor dies on stage the very night a flu pandemic breaks out in Toronto and the world falls apart. The story jumps backwards and forwards in time from this one moment and follows characters all tied to this one actor, though the actor himself is not the star, merely the lynchpin.

This dystopian tale doesn't do anything that hasn't been done before, but what it does do it does very well.  It's less focused on the particulars of this apocalypse, but rather on it's effect on specific characters.  How their lives were before the event and how they deal with things after.  Some people break down along with society while others survive and adapt to their new world and find a way to move on.  It's easy to see why this has gotten so much praise and it's definitely worth reading. 

Rating: 8.5/10.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Eye on New Releases for July 7, 2015

 (B&N, Amazon)

A major new novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.  Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.

"Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.   Now, we approach our destination.  A new home.  AURORA."

"After fighting back from the brink of death, Queen Lyrna is determined to repel the invading Volarian army and regain the independence of the Unified Realm. Except, to accomplish her goals, she must do more than rally her loyal supporters. She must align herself with forces she once found repugnant—those who possess the strange and varied gifts of the Dark—and take the war to her enemy’s doorstep.

Victory rests on the shoulders of Vaelin Al Sorna, now named Battle Lord of the Realm. However, his path is riddled with difficulties. For the Volarian enemy has a new weapon on their side, one that Vaelin must destroy if the Realm is to prevail—a mysterious Ally with the ability to grant unnaturally long life to her servants. And defeating one who cannot be killed is a nearly impossible feat, especially when Vaelin’s blood-song, the mystical power which has made him the epic fighter he is, has gone ominously silent…"

Friday, July 3, 2015

Thinking About Reading...

Forget everything you've ever heard about Robin Hood.

Robin Loxley is seven years old when his parents disappear without a trace. Years later the great love of his life, Marian, is also taken from him. Driven by these mysteries, and this anguish, Robin follows a darkening path into the ancient heart of Sherwood Forest. What he encounters there will leave him transformed . . .

The story of two lost souls in a rather eccentric fish bowl. Humans are gone and bloody good riddance to the lot of them. The planet, left barren and lifeless by the long extinct species, has since been inherited by their own creations. Now all that roams the hollow cities and landscapes of man are the various machinations left bestowed with intelligent (or in some cases barely functional) programming, including the likes of janitorial robots, violently affectionate androids, and one very unfortunate stuffed rabbit. Separated by distance and time, two unlikely soul mates, Usu and Rain have been rekindled by fate only to struggle once again to hold onto their fragile union. To save a friendship that has stretched across lifetimes they must trek across a land as exotic as it is unforgiving, joined in their adventure by cleaning droids, cannibal robots, and holograms from an era long past. Fighting against time, forgotten memories, and their own design at the hands of their former creators, they will find a way to be together forever, at any cost.