The Exploding Spaceship Reviews New Wen Spencer, Orson Scott Card, and Ari Marmell

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Review of Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer (Baen hardcover June 4, 2013)

Eight Million Gods is the story about a young adult American author named Nikki Delany, who is on the run from her mother, and she runs to Osaka, Japan where she has friends from the internet. While in Japan she is doing research for her second novel; the book is under contract and she is really stressed about completing it on time, because her muse strikes suddenly and causes her to write in torrents but the multiple scenes of her stories don’t always meet until the end so she stresses out until the story starts to come together.

Things take a turn for the strange when someone starts making her books into reality. At least that’s what Nikki thinks when it happens the first time and she is questioned by the police, but the truth is actually much stranger. It is a tale with Japanese gods, mothers who aren’t what they seem, tanuki, a kitten, a much loved adoptive father, and a scary guy with catlike moves.

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Japanese mythological characters are running around on the streets of Japan but aren’t noticed by most people.  Nikki tries to sort out the mess caused by the gods fighting and at the same time change the end of her story so everyone doesn’t die. She meets some really interesting people and makes a good friend along the way. She also discovers her writing is indeed a gift from the gods and with practice is better at controlling the mad urges to write which hit her in times of stress.

For fans of anime, manga or Japanese culture, this book offers a wonderful immersion into that culture. Descriptions of everyday life are very detailed: food, drink, finding a place to live, and the general attitude toward Americans. Nikki is a very quirky but highly detailed character who immediately gets sympathy because of her crazy politician mother who is constantly trying to disrupt Nikki’s life (and who, as it turns out, has some secrets of her own).  There is plenty of action with swords, magic…and blenders.

Eight Million Gods offers a fresh look at urban fantasy without Western ideas of werewolves and vampires in it. As with all Wen Spencer’s work it is easy to read, so if your anime fan doesn’t read then you might get them to try this.

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Review of In Thunder Forged Iron Kingdom Chronicles The Fall of Llael: Book One by Ari Marmell

This is the first tie-in book based upon the Warmachine steam-powered fantasy game and the Iron Kingdoms roleplaying game, but that being said, we don’t play either of those but still enjoyed the book. The background is interesting and complex and the politics would probably be more detailed in the game material, but the characters and the plot did not depend on the reader knowing anything ahead of time.

It is a steam-tech fantasy wartime adventure but it is from the viewpoint of different individuals, not from a group or unit, when a unit is dealt with it is from the sergeant’s point of view.  There is cloak and dagger espionage as well as battles in the book. It is an interesting take on steampunk because the world’s tech is steam power but the world is very magic heavy so technology combines the two.  War robots are steam and magic powered.  Alchemy is also used to good effect. There are even mages whose only magic is done on guns or ammunition so they can’t miss and shots sometimes have special effects.

The character at the focus of the espionage scenes is Garland, a bright, charming female who uses all her gifts to get what she wants. She also makes interesting use of all the layers of clothing common in fancy female dress.  Sergeant Bracewell is in charge of a small unit of soldiers; bravely leading by example, she is devoted to her troops and will do anything to keep them safe.

When Garland and Bracewell team up with the assistance of female knight Lieutenant Laddermore on behalf of Cygnar, it results in great amounts of gunfire, explosions and running.  The bad guys (section three of Khador) are led by another strong female character named Vorona. Vorona and Garland keep trying to blow each other up but neither is successful. Both sides want the alchemical formula needed for a new weapon.  All this makes for some complex characters who interact with others from their side and the opposite ones in interesting ways.

Hopefully other volumes of the Iron Kingdom Chronicles will feature some of these characters. Most tie-in books are badly written and are aimed at a demographic who wants sexist depictions of women so it was a pleasant surprise to find a well written one with strong female characters who wear clothing appropriate for their professions.

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Review of Earth Afire : The First Formic War Volume 2 of the Formic Wars by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (Tor hardback, June 4, 2013)

This book is part of a newer series in the Ender’s Game universe which looks at the Formic Wars. It is the story of Captain Mazer Rackham of the New Zealand Special Air Services from the time before his appearance as a major character in Ender’s Game.

While everyone is denying the validity of images of alien attacks which have been posted to the web, Mazer is sent to China to train their pilots to operate the new planes their government has purchased. While he is there the Formics blow up some news shuttles and a UN ship on their approach to earth.  This sets everyone on high alert as the Formic send down landers into southeast China.  The Chinese lock down all access to their satellites so Rackham and his team can’t get any intelligence.  They steal one of the planes and go to the countryside where there is no jamming and land.

There are two narrative threads, one of a boy named Bingwen and his family and friends who are in the Formic landing zone in southeast China which starts as a separate thread but merges with the Mazer Rackham thread and then a thread which is set off of earth and follows the people who are trying to do something about the Formics, Lem and Rena. Their thread is not complete in this volume, but they manage to get in the same place and start to plan, so volume three will probably see action against the Formics from them.

Mazer helps rescue the Chinese peasants and then a little later they return the favor. As Mazer travels to the alien lander, he tries to get Bingwen to safety since he is alone now, but Bingwen won’t go. The interplay and discussion of war between them gets Mazer thinking about children and war, some of his thoughts give a clue as to where the idea for Battle School came from.

Mazer and Bingwen are both very interesting characters. You can see Bingwen is sort of like Ender but his upbringing makes him have a slightly different view of things. This time period shaped much of the Mazer we see in Ender’s Game so it is interesting to see the events which changed him. Most of Earth’s governments and the off-planetary government entities are made to look like idiots as a result of the Formic War, so some major changes will be coming. At the time of Ender’s Game, society infrastructure has completely changed in attitude, so it will be interesting to watch things change over later volumes.

The book is a well written adventure story but it is more of a war on the ground version of events than other things we have seen in this universe. It will be interesting to see if this view continues or if we will get more overall or off-earth views of the war in later volumes. The off-earth views in this volume are not of people at war yet, but they are trying to get new technology on-line to get rid of the Formics so they will be more important later. If you are an Ender’s Game fan, then this is a good read. Note that while the book is not marketed at teens, it is a safe read as the war scenes are not graphic and major portions of it have child characters.

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