Review of Time Salvager by Wesley Chu (Tor July 7, 2015 in the UK, Angry Robot July 9, 2015)
The premise that the future is so bleak that they need to send people to the past to salvage energy sources and other resources makes for a very interesting setting. The main characters are salvager James, and two women, Grace and Elise. He meets both of them on trips to the past, but ends up bringing them to his own time in order for them to help him save the future. James’ efforts to balance his relationships with the two women make for some interesting scenes. They actually get along quite well but both are better at manipulating him than he is at dealing with either of the women.
The government in the future is just as screwy as the present US bureaucracy and seeing some of the workers try to get around the crazy rules was very familiar, unfortunately (Your Humble Reviewers both used to work for the US Government). In order to fix the Earth, Grace and Elise try to reverse the damage to the oceans. James makes many trips into the past for equipment and supplies with the help of his friend Smitt, who is still working for ChronoCom. This puts his life in danger because he doesn’t have the drugs needed to recover from the trips, plus he might get discovered and arrested by his former employers. James discovers that not all the time travelers follow the rules and that the world ended up a dismal mess because someone interfered with the plan to fix it many years before. This discovery makes him, Grace and Elise really pissed off so they rally everyone and fight the government people.
As expected of Chu’s novels, there is fast action with fighting both hand-to-hand and with guns. Even the bit characters have some depth and the cast is quite diverse. Elise is our favorite character, a scientist action heroine who has to use her people skills as well as her science and defense skills. She is awesome and deserves a later book from her viewpoint.
If you like SF or action adventure stories then you need to read this book!
Review of Iron and Blood by Gail Z and Larry Martin (Solaris, July 7, 2015)
This is the first volume of a new steampunk series set in Pittsburgh. Jake and Rick are best friends who travel the world helping their fathers acquire antiques and odd objects for the company’s clients. Some of these objects have magical properties and so can be quite dangerous. Jake’s cousin Nicki accompanies them on some of their trips in Europe, as she was raised there.
When their trip to retrieve an urn goes off the rails, things only get worse when they reach London to discover that Jake’s father is dead and they immediately get on the airship to go home to Pittsburgh. They must appear to be in mourning while also trying to discover who killed him.
Pittsburgh has the architecture and history to be a great steampunk setting. The authors make great use of this and the city really comes alive in the book. The addition of both good and bad magic practitioners adds to the weird steampunk feel of this Pittsburgh. There are certainly plenty of creepy locations and activities discussed in the volume to give it a darker edge than many steampunk novels.
The lead characters are done well, but the female characters are a bit disappointing. Their roles are kept so period that while in mourning they have to hide and keep out of sight. The younger women help with research and are in the background for the entire book, only fighting when the boys can’t prevent it. Nicki and her friends need their own adventure track in the book; don’t just leave them at home doing research when they could be off doing something adventurous and maybe save the guys on occasion. It is implied that Nicki, Jake and Rick have had crazy adventures all over Europe, but you don’t really see the three of them doing anything but escaping in the book. Then they leave Nicki with Jake’s mother!
It is a Victorian era story, but if you can add magic and steampunk tech then you can do something about the women characters! Nicki ends up shooting the guns on the airship in the big battle scene, but only because the guys didn’t include her on the sneaky ground mission and then Jake complains about it over the radio. He deserves a good smacking from his cousin. The scene switching to the airship needed to be placed in the middle of the battle, not go back in time and overlap it at a later time in the book.
The plot is engaging and moves very fast. It has good fight scenes with period weapons and some funky steampunk ones too. Some bad guys get away of course, so both sides live to fight another day. It would be cool to see the trio (note I said trio not duo) visit other American cities to track down objects and fight against the bad magic practitioners.
It is a well-written steampunk adventure set in an interesting American location. Jake and Rick are interesting, but actually less so than cousin Nicki, who was raised in France. Hopefully in future volumes Nicki is more part of the team, otherwise female readers will be disappointed.
Review of Cities and Thrones by Carrie Patel (Angry Robot July 7, 2015)
This is the second book in the Recoletta Series, following The Buried Life. The setting for this book is the same post-disaster world, which feels sort of Victorian in social graces, aristocracy and general technology level, with spurts of leftover tech which is a higher level.
Jane and Frederick are still on the run but it was a relief to pick up their trail again in this book and see that they got away from Recoletta and that Frederick recovered from being shot. The last book was sort of a cliffhanger!
Jane uses her skills of observation to figure out the situations in the villages they pass through and in Madina, the next large city they travel to. Many people from Recoletta have arrived in Madina. Unfortunately some of their politics have followed them, so Madina turns out to have quite an exciting political climate with some familiar Recolettan players as well as some native ones.
Jane and Frederick both end up with jobs, but soon the political situation changes Jane’s situation as she is asked to take on new duties which lead to her meeting up with Roman. Jane finally determines that all the intrigue has been about who controls the library and who controls a vault of old weapons. There are only two people who know the key to the vault.
The other viewpoint character is Malone the policewoman, who stepped into a leadership role she doesn’t really like after Sato took over Recoletta. She does quite a bit of investigating and sneaking around in this volume. Some of her tasks are quite a surprise and some characters from the first book make some appearances in some strange locations.
At the end of this volume, Malone and Jane are both at the library but not in the same location. Both have used a gun to solve some of their problems, but when their actions are revealed to everyone it will have much larger implications than either of them originally intended. As with the last volume, we are left hanging about Frederick’s, Jane’s, and Roman’s fates. Patel had better write quickly so we can get the next book soon!
This is a fast read which keeps the reader absorbed. The setting is interesting with distinct social classes. The aristocrats from Recoletta have manicured white finger nails, showing that they did not work with their hands. Some classes are basically slaves. The setting a bit of a collapsed British Empire feel to it, but how the geography relates to our world isn’t discussed. As the characters have moved via ground and train to outside Recoletta, it is clear the culture of the world as a whole is very diverse. The farming villages are very different from either of the cities presented, as well as being distinct from each other.
Overall it is a very entertaining book which looks at some female and class issues in interesting ways. It’s a good reading choice for lovers of Victorian urban fantasy or post-apocalyptic stories. Hurry up, Carrie Patel, and tell us the fates of Jane, Freddie and Roman!
Review of Roboteer by Alex Lamb (Gollancz, July 16, 2015)
This is the story of Will, a person genetically modified to allow him to connect to and control robots, and how he helps his planet Galatea fight against Earth. Earth is ruled by a religious group headed by a prophet and it has attacked and taken over most of the colony worlds. The colony worlds have more advanced technology, like genetic modifications and robots, but Earth has many more people.
Earthers have found a piece of alien technology but they can’t do anything with it except copy some plans it communicated to them. They use the plans to destroy many Galatean ships during a battle. Will and his shipmates follow one of the Earth ships in order to try and steal the technology. Will hacks the feed between the Earther facility and the alien relic and suddenly he gets way more than he bargained for, but on the plus side the alien stops talking to the Earther facility.
Will tries to follow the guidance of the alien technology but his shipmates are suspicious. After exciting adventures aboard ship, on another alien relic, planetside, and in prison, Will and his shipmates end up in a battle to save their home planet and defeat Earth in order to save the human race from extinction by the aliens.
This is hard SF with well-developed characters, some romance, strange alien technology, and plenty of ship-to-ship combat. It reads easily and the setting is futuristic without being unrelatable. In addition to hard SF readers, readers of James White’s Sector General series and Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx series would appreciate this book. Your Humble Reviewers hope this series continues for many more books!
Your Humble Reviewers liked the blurb and talk online about this book enough to buy an ecopy for review, something we very rarely do because our reading pile is gigantic. US readers will probably also have to buy an ecopy because Gollancz print editions take a while to order from your local bookstore.
Review of Dead Man’s Reach by D.B. Jackson (Tor July 21, 2015)
This is the fourth Ethan Kaille novel. An unseen enemy is making people do violent things by spelling them. When Ethan discovers the source of the spells being cast on people around him, he is horrified. He enlists the help of some unlikely allies in order to fight the person behind the evil spells. He has had to undertake work for some people his friends think are enemies because thieftaking jobs are so scarce that he has to take anything he can get.
Ethan and Kannice’s relationship develops further with them finally getting around to discussing the future and both realizing they need to compromise to make things work. Before this volume both characters were too immature and selfish to be willing to do what was necessary for a future together, so it is good that events have led them to face the truth even if those events were unpleasant.
The violence which will eventually lead up to the revolution starts in this volume but the actions of the British put off the inevitable conflict for a time. It will be interesting to see how the war starts in this alternate Boston. There are several really well-done mob scenes in this story where the narrator is on the edge looking from the outside and trying not to get drawn into it. You get a good sense of how mobs like this sweep up bystanders and escalate from the fear and excitement Ethan feels and how he realizes one little action triggers something in the mob which causes property destruction, deaths and injuries.
During most of the book the evil speller uses the crowds to do his dirty work for him, but eventually there is a fight between him and Ethan. This turns into quite an epic magic battle much larger than anything depicted in the series so far. Your Humble Reviewers don’t want to give away parts of the story so we won’t say anything about the battle except that it requires Ethan to use his intelligence as much as his magic skills.
This “tricorn-punk” story is a quick read with a very detailed pre-revolution Boston setting, many varied and interesting characters, and a mystery style plot. If you like steampunk or urban fantasy you should give this series a try.