Review of 23 Years on Fire by Joel Shepherd (Pyr, trade paperback, September 10, 2013)
This is the fourth Cassandra Kresnov novel.
Four years before the start of this novel, Sandy and Rhian had claimed asylum from the League on the planet Callay, the new Federation Grand Council location, a few years after the war between the League and the Federation ended. Since then about 50 GIs had arrived on Callay and asked for asylum there. GIs are synthetic biological people created in a lab by the League, but creating them broke the law, and it was concerns over the use of the technology used to create them which started the war. Using the technology to develop artificial brains on the order of humans was banned in the Federation with only very limited use of synthetic biological enhancements allowed for Federation military personnel. In the League use of the technology to provide uplink implants was extremely widespread.
Many of the GIs seeking asylum were the more intelligent higher designations who found jobs in the military or para-military with only a few non-combatant designations finding jobs in data processing or technology. Sandy, the GI with the highest designation of any who sought asylum, works for Callayan Security Agency (CSA) as a SWAT team leader and is seconded at times to the Federal Security Agency (FSA) which used to be the Callayan Defense Force (CDF). Read the rest of this entry »
The Exploding Spaceship Release Day Edition: Reviews of Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo and The Undead Hordes of Kan-Gul by Jon F. MerzPosted: 3 September, 2013
Review of Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo (Baen, September 3, 2013 hardback)
Under a Graveyard Sky is John Ringo’s contribution to the zombie-apocalypse genre. In this story the zombies are not hordes of shambling undead, but the living victims of a viral plague brought about by a bioterror weapon, and Ringo uses real science to explain why the infected people act like zombies.
The Smith family (husband and wife John and Stacey and their daughters Sophia and Faith) are doomsday preppers, people who are trained and ready for almost any emergency, as well as any conceivable end-of-the-world scenario. When John and Stacey receive the “Zombie Apocalypse” code from John’s brother Tom, they walk away from their jobs, pull their daughters from school and allow them to contact no one, load up their supplies, steal a boat, and head out to sea to wait out the carnage.
The family travels up the coast to New York, where Tom is located, but after some adventures in his office building and receiving some vaccine, they head out from the city into the ocean. They end up traveling down the Atlantic seaboard salvaging from groups of zombies and saving non-infected people. Their boat and the salvaged ones travel in a loose fleet of survivors.
Along the way the survivors encounter some larger ships that are infested with the “infected”, but they hope some survivors might be holed-up in some cabins so they fight cabin to cabin. At the start of the emergency, middle-school-age daughter Faith had been very excited to learn that their foes were rampaging zombies and had been very impatiently looking forward to shooting them. Wreaking such havoc loses its charm after doing it for seemingly endless days, however, and Faith and her teddy bear are not nearly as happy to be shooting everything.
John and Stacey Smith love their daughters dearly, but they also know that they need to keep gathering supplies in order to survive; Faith is the one best able to deal with the weapons and tactics needed, and Sophia is needed to drive the boat, so putting their children in harm’s way is unavoidable; Their survival, and possibly that of the rest of humanity, is at stake.
The family dynamic depicted in the story is very believable, with Ringo clearly stating that Sophia and Faith are based on his own daughters.
Under a Graveyard Sky is very much a Swiss Family Robinson-style adventure at sea with most of the other boats being full of monsters. It is a well-researched, plausible look at survival during a bioterrorism emergency. There are realistic gun battles with accurately described weaponry, and naval operations akin to those of the Coast Guard. The Smith family and their traveling companions are well-developed and all very strong characters. We will be seeing more of the Smith family in future volumes. If you like a good zombie tale, then this book is for you.
Review of the Undead Hordes of Kan-gul: Book 1 of the Shadow Warrior by Jon F. Merz (Baen, September 3 release, trade paperback)
Ninjas, samurai, zombies, evil wizards controlling nasty weather and tortuous landscapes, all components for an enjoyable weird fantasy tale with a strong Eastern feel to it. Sort of a literary version of a samurai and ninja buddy movie crossed with a Ray Harryhausen monster movie. Not much gun use, but many sword deaths, so definitely a normal Baen high body count. There are quite nice descriptions of sword fights without being overly detailed to pull the reader out of the battle. There is a female warrior and a female wizard (not the evil one) in the supporting cast and their relationship to the male characters is done well: everyone acts like colleagues, not silly people letting their hormones run their lives.
The plot in this volume is only the beginning of the Shadow Warrior’s wandering quest to prove he is ready to be a full member of his clan, so while the evil wizard and his zombies are dealt with, it is not the end of the quest. This will continue in Slavers of the Silk Road and The Temple of Demons.
Ran is an interesting character who is obviously a bit naïve about the world outside his clan, so he is learning how to deal with other people as he travels. The continuing relationship of the characters will be an interesting component of the later volumes. The landscape descriptions are quite vivid, with everything in the evil wizard’s lair being quite travel-unfriendly due to nasty traps, wild creatures, zombies, and magically-generated bad weather.
If you like a good adventure tale, a quest story or appreciate a good zombie/monster tale then this book is for you.
The Exploding Spaceship YA Release Day Edition: Review of The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond and When The World Was Flat And We Were In Love by Ingrid JonachPosted: 3 September, 2013
Review of The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond (Strange Chemistry, September 3, 2013, trade paperback)
This is a story set in a Washington, D.C., where all the pantheons of gods have been awoken and have been prevented from returning from the afterlife if they die, so dead means dead. As a consequence of this strange turn of events there are regular encounters with gods if you are in downtown DC. The trickster gods of the pantheons serve as a court to determine the outcome of problems between the gods and humans. The chaos of the gods’ power interrupts modern electronic communications, so DC is a little technologically backward, which is strange given the many first adopters of technology who live there.
The gods have their powers of myth but can be killed by magical and physical attack, so they fear death because they can’t return to life immediately like they could previously. DC is a weird place because power struggles for jobs, housing, and prestige all have a political bent, so having all the gods added to the mix makes it a very weird place (Your Humble Reviewers used to live in the DC suburbs) with even more strange power struggles.
Kyra is a teen who struggles with a complex family situation: estranged parents who live apart and a dad who is away for work sometimes at odd hours. She is rather rebellious but her dad is so wrapped up in other issues he just tries to ignore it. Her best friend Bree has a TV anchorwoman mom. They have a third friend, a youth named Tam, and the three of them make a sort of strange love triangle, with Kyra the old girlfriend but still friend and Bree wishfully watching and hoping for a chance.
Kyra has an encounter with Legba, a West African trickster god, and things proceed downhill from there. All three teens and their parents are wrapped in a save-the-world-from-disaster scenario which uses the DC landscape and building for things which you will have to read to believe.
This is an exciting urban fantasy adventure which hopefully will get further volumes. The characters are engaging and the setting familiar but with strange twists. One of the most enjoyable young adult contemporary tales set in the US that Your Humble Reviewers have read in a long while.
Review of When the World Was Flat and We Were in Love by Ingrid Jonach (Strange Chemistry, trade paperback, September 3, 2013)
The first comment has to be the wonderfully engaging name, which immediately lets you know it is a romance but has something strange going on, since we know our world is not flat but spherical. It is set in a small town in Nebraska, and the characters are all students at Green Grove Central High School. The story of Lillie and Tom is enjoyable and seems like an ordinary teen romance but Lillie keeps getting memories of them together and in love before they have even been on a date.
When she finally comes to realize the truth about her and Tom’s relationship, it is almost heartbreaking when the older characters try to keep them apart. Tom does some strange things during the course of the book because he is trying to keep from falling for Lillie, but it doesn’t work and he falls in love anyway.
There are the usual bullying activities going on at school and the risk-taking activities of the teens in their off-hours. Things seem like a normal small town until Tom reveals a truth about the universe to Lillie which changes the way she see things forever. This truth pushes the entire book into science fiction and causes you to reflect on Tom’s previous actions in a different way.
For those who like their romance with a great deal of trouble tossed in, like a good contemporary tale with a bit of an SF twist, then this is the novel for you. It has some well-developed characters and supporting cast with some strange and annoying parents thrown in there too. Definitely a small town tale since the teens all seem to drive and some of the scenarios wouldn’t work in a more crowded urban environment.
The Exploding Spaceship Special Pre-Release Dragon Con Edition: Review of Torchwood Exodus Code by John and Carole E. BarrowmanPosted: 30 August, 2013
This book doesn’t release in the US until later in September but for those of you at Dragon Con, John and Carole have promised to have copies available so they can sign them. So go find them in the Walk of Fame!
Review of Torchwood Exodus Code By John and Carole E. Barrowman (US paperback Sept 24, 2013 UK Hardback Edition September 13, 2012, UK paperback August 15, 2013)
A new Captain Jack adventure written by the Captain himself along with his sister!
Captain Jack is trying to investigate why some women have been driven crazy by their senses. He tracks the problem to Peru where he experiences some fantastical landscapes and meets some very interesting characters. The first chapters are set in 1930s Peru and in Part One Jack’s story alternates between past and present. Jack has evidence of alien involvement but it is not clear exactly what is going on nor why.
Gwen appears in Part Two of the book, directly following an appearance by Rex at the end of Part One. Jack meets up with Gwen, Anwen and Rhys about a third of the way into the book in a very unexpected and violent way. Gwen had been trying to keep from becoming a victim of the female madness and she has discovered something in Cardiff which is alien and connected to Jack in some way.
Eventually Jack is able to put some of the pieces together and solve the mystery which involves odd sensory input, a boat trip and some ancient Incan ideas. The Incan civilization is explored quite a bit in the book, with some views into older and modern ideas and how Jack fits into it somehow. This isn’t a culture which is a common background for books in English so it adds an even larger feel of mystery and magic to the book.
This is the best Torchwood book published to date, so if you are a Torchwood or Captain Jack fan then this is a must-read. If you aren’t familiar with the characters but like a good mystery, there is enough background in the book to figure out the cast of characters. There was a long delay in the release of this volume in the US, but hopefully the Barrowmans will be able to write more adventures for Captain Jack and the rest of Torchwood since we aren’t getting more on the TV.
Review of Crux: Book 2 of Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot, paperback, August 27, 2013)
Nexus 5 was released upon the world in the previous book, Nexus. This volume is about the repercussions of that release. Kade watches all the interesting and wonderful things people are doing with Nexus, only interfering when someone is using it to abuse others. He deals harshly with such abusers by using the backdoors in the code, but everyone else wants these backdoor codes as well. His partners who were captured are tortured by the government to reveal the passwords, but they don’t know them since Kade changed them, so this causes even more problems when the government tries to use invalid passwords.
At the beginning of the book Kade is getting his eye and hand replaced in a clinic in Cambodia since he lost his originals in the fights in the last book. While he is recovering, the government increases its efforts to find him because they discover the passwords don’t work. He and Feng have to flee and end up running from temple to temple to stay ahead of their pursuers. Eventually a confrontation results in many monks getting killed and injured, so Kade and Feng head to Saigon to try to blend in with the tourists instead of hiding where others will get killed.
Several groups of people are looking in Saigon for Kade, including Kevin Nakamura and an Indian man named Shiva Prasad, who had to flee his homeland because he dosed all the coral with an engineered virus in order to help it survive. It worked but upset everyone because he didn’t asked permission and many believed it to be a crime against nature. Eventually Shiva Prasad’s people get Kade to their Burmese island which was given in exchange for help with their biotech program. Eventually Kade, Feng, Sam, Shiva, and Kevin are all on the island fighting for control of Kade and the children from the orphanage.
This second volume lets us see Kade get over his naïve thoughts of what others would use Nexus 5 to accomplish and we also see him mature a bit due to all the adverse consequences others experience because of him. He learns that fighting to control what people do with software after release is like trying to stuff a genie back into its bottle. When he looks at all the things people do with it, we get to see Ramez’s great imagination at work full speed, but to reveal more would spoil one of the greatest parts of this book, where we see Ramez Naam the futurist thinking about how the entire human race would use this software in people’s brains to do fantastical things.
Kade and Sam both have more mature moments when their stories are being told separately, and it is interesting to see how the changes in them affect their relationship when they get back in the same location. Sam’s past continues to be a strong influence on her decision-making because she expects the worst of everyone but Kade is using a more recent view to see the worst in humanity at times too. All the characters, even the supporting cast, are well developed and have great depth. We see the past of everyone and how it influences their present as well as how the shared history in different cultures can lead to different results with the same data. The settings in Asia are quite vibrant and having experienced China, Japan and Korea ourselves it really feels like you are there. Ramez’s extensive travel history was put to good use for this setting.
This book is a fantastic near future science fiction adventure with interesting neurosoftware which is implanted as a recreational drug. The software concepts depicted are realistic, but the use in human brains is obviously a bit vague on the details since our neuroscience isn’t quite on that path yet. The US government depicted is very scary but with the wrong people in charge we could be headed that way. It has interesting main characters who are college-age young adults with different types of childhoods. This makes the motivations of the characters different and sometimes confused and conflicted, so what could be a straightforward adventure plot ends up with many twists and turns. Any lover of science fiction adventure should read this book.
Review of Wrath-bearing Tree: A Tournament of Shadows Book Two by James Enge (Pyr paperback August 13, 2013)
Morlock Ambrosius has an adventure on his own in Kaen, a land of strange religions, when the ship he is traveling on is destroyed by fire attacks from the Kaen coast. After he makes his way back to the Wardlands, he is sent off on a ship again, but this time Aloê, the girl Morlock thinks he likes, is assigned to captain the ship. She grew up on the water and so is very much at home on a boat, but Morlock gets seasick, so he isn’t sure whether to be pleased or mortified that Aloê is on the mission with him.
Aloê and Morlock end up in Kaen on their own so it becomes an adventure in young adult relationships, which moves on to an adventure in sexual relationships and how one partner can be helped through damage done by previous sexual violence if they find the right understanding partner. The two get separated, but eventually meet up again and encounter members of Morlock’s family whom he has never met because they were banished from the land as punishment when Morlock was an infant. This is why he was raised by the dwarves.
The characters of Merlin and Morlock’s sisters are developed in this volume and their reactions to discovering Morlock is life partnered to Aloê by feeling how their magics are entangled is quite amusing. Morlock’s and Aloê’s relationship changes and takes on new dimensions as they share secrets and passions. Morlock seems immature at the start but once he discovers she isn’t perfect either, the relationship soon moves from slightly confused to very confident and adult. They are still journeying at the end of this volume so hopefully there will not be a long wait for volume 3.
This story is hero-journey fantasy at its best. The setting is interesting, complex, and has vast numbers of cultural groups that Morlock can travel through and encounter. Some of the characters have familiar sounding names but Enge’s versions are very unique. The dwarves’ society, their psychology, and the relationship with dragons are fascinating. The explanations of magic are also not your average fantasy trope. Magic is bound up with the essence of who a person is and is bound up with their inner energy and the place they reach when deeply focused. It reminded me of Asian meditation techniques employed to center and calm oneself. Morlock understands himself, Aloê and the universe so completely that his ability to make magical items and use magic is far beyond anything attempted by any of the others from the Graith.
There are sex scenes in this book, some of them quite detailed but only in places relevant to the plot and they are realistic and don’t have the characters doing physically impossible things. Definitely this is an adult book for very mature teens and adults. This is the second book in the series, following A Guile of Dragons, but the adventures share characters and have independent plots so if you get volume 2 first it’s not really a problem.
The Exploding Spaceship reviews The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings and Beginnings by Stephanie OsbornPosted: 11 August, 2013
Review of The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings and Beginnings by Stephanie Osborn (Twilight Times Books, released November 2012)
Endings and Beginnings is the fourth book in a series that brings Sherlock Holmes into the modern day by way of a hard-science fiction time machine incident.
Dr. Skye Chadwick develops a device which allows the user to see and even visit alternate realities. Some of those alternate realities are inhabited by individuals who only exist in the pages of fiction in our world, and one of those individuals is none other than Sherlock Holmes! When the device is tuned in to the famous (and fictional!) detective’s reality, Skye sees him as he is about to plunge off Reichenbach Falls, runs through the portal to save him and in so doing pulls Holmes into our world, specifically twenty-first-century Colorado.
Because he is known to have died in his own reality Holmes can never return there, and Skye becomes his native guide in this world, helping him to adapt to his strange new surroundings, and together they spend the next three books having adventures ranging from Colorado to the United Kingdom.
Endings and Beginnings covers the conclusion of Skye and Holmes helping an alternate-reality version of themselves save all realities by repairing their tesseract core (the tesseract in our reality was deactivated after the Holmes rescue incident), as well as solving a murder case involving possession of a family farm and an old government facility on the property.
Skye and Holmes were married in the previous book, and this adds an interesting twist to the violent encounters they both tend to get into when investigating, and Skye has the added burden of doing calculations to save all the realities while handling the more mundane demands of an ongoing investigation. Because they are working for the British government they have help with necessities like housing, transport, and food, and cast members from previous books have traveled with them, so they have a cadre of familiar faces to call upon.
A face both new and familiar appears in the form of an elderly Dr. John Watson. He is quite spry for his age and bravely steps in to help when one of the other characters is attacked. Holmes is delighted to discover that the old physician is much like the Watson he knew in his original reality.
Endings and Beginnings is a convoluted mystery, so guessing the twists and turns of the plot will be nigh-impossible; readers will discover what is going on at the same time that Skye and Holmes discover it. Even so, Your Humble Reviewers detected no logical deduction errors. The story also contains a fair amount of physics jargon regarding the tesseract-repair problem, but it is clearly presented and tripped no alarms with the engineer half of the Exploding Spaceship duo.
Skye’s and Holmes’ relationship continues to develop, but they still experience the occasional disconnect due to cultural differences because of the timeshift for Holmes or the cultural shift to Britain for Skye, all of which is quite believable because relatively little actual time has passed over the course of the narrative.
The discussions between the different versions of Skye and Holmes are quite amusing and reveal things that talking with someone other than yourself would not.
Holmes, as usual, is the Smartest Man In The Room (unless Moriarty is there), but now he has the Smartest Woman In The Room working with him, so he has someone who can keep up with him and bring her own unique expertise to bear. This makes for a different dynamic than with Dr. Watson of old, but it works because Skye and Holmes are spouses as well as business partners.
If you like a good detective story, don’t mind your hard SF to have a bit of parallel universes or like a good alternate reality tale then this series is a good choice.
The Exploding Spaceship Release Day Edition: Review of Warbound by Larry Correia, Pirates of the Timestream by Steve White and Tour of Duty by Michael Z. WilliamsonPosted: 6 August, 2013
Review of Warbound by Larry Correia (Baen hardback, August 6, 2013)
This is the third and concluding volume in Larry Correia’s pulps-inspired Grimnoir Chronicles, and it details Faye’s experiences hiding from the Grimnoir, attending Whisper’s funeral, and seeking a mentor from the elders in Europe. The Grimnoir think she is dead, so as Jake and the others prepare to board the great dirigible airship UBF Traveler, they are all in mourning.
The Traveler is off to Japan to solve the Chairman problem and get the rest of the Japanese to fight the Pathfinder. The methods and plan for accomplishing this change as the book progresses, and of course things never turn out as Jake envisions. Toru’s presence causes strife among those crew harmed by the Imperium, but Jake manages to keep them from killing each other.
Their trip to China gives an interesting view of the fringes of the Imperium, as well as the Chinese mafia. They also encounter the Chinese Grimnoir, whose membership is very few because so many of them have been betrayed to the Imperium.
After her enlightening trip across Europe, Faye catches up with the Traveler crew just in time to enter the battle, which is quite a shock to those who thought she was dead. After all her travels she better understands herself and her position as the Spellbound, but she is still worried about turning evil. This concern makes her think a bit more before acting, which is a good thing because it reduces her impulsiveness to a more tolerable level. She is such a quick thinker that even slowing down she is far faster than everyone else.
We get a hint at the future of Francis and Faye, so maybe a future series will give us an idea of their later lives, perhaps even those of their children. Faye and Jake are the most interesting characters in the series, so hopefully we can see them again in a prequel (maybe something about Jake’s war experience) or a sequel (how about the Grimnoir in the 1950s?). Faye shows all the normal doubts of a young woman her age, but appears to self-confident enough that she will make a self-assured woman and mother down the road.
This urban fantasy/pulp series is set in an alternate world in which magic manifested in relatively modern times, so it comes out a science-based society with magic-based superheroes added. Much of the magic can affect the 1930s-era machines in these stories, but a look into the digital age of this universe would also be interesting.
The characters, their relationships, and the governmental supporting cast are all well-developed, and the plot is quite linear but with several bumps, detours, surprises and betrayals along the way.
The trilogy is brought to a satisfying end with all the plot points resolved, but since these are superheroes they can’t live happily ever after, so hopefully they can be revisited in a later time period when they again have to save the world…or the universe.
If you like historical urban fantasy, alternate history or old-school superheroes, then this is a good read for you. The body count is not as high as that in Correia’s Monster Hunter series but the gun info is detailed and accurate, so MHI lovers will probably also like this book.
Arrr, me Hearties! Review of Pirates of the Timestream by Steve White (Baen trade paperback, August 6, 2013)
Ahoy, mateys! Pull on your seven-league boots and set the Wayback Machine for seventeenth-century Jamaica, because in the latest adventure in Baen author Steve White’s series about Commander Jason Thanou of the Temporal Regulatory Authority the intrepid time agent has an up-close-and-personal encounter with the real pirates of the Caribbean.
In the previous book, Sunset of the Gods, Jason and his party of twenty-fourth-century time travelers are on an expedition to Ancient Greece when they discover a plot by the Transhumanists to alter the future by changing the past.
Tenses always become a great hairy mess when time travel is involved, so please bear with Your Humble Reviewers for a moment: In the twenty-third century, The Transhumanists were a group of genetically- and bionically-enhanced superhumans who had held Earth under a century-long dictatorship, and by Jason Thanou’s time in the late twenty-fourth century, the Tranhumanists have been overthrown for about a hundred years, and humanity at large has been secure in the belief that that particular nightmare was now just a distant memory. Unfortunately for humanity, the Transhumanists have a time machine…
An expedition to the eighteenth century finds the remains of a twenty-fourth-century spacecraft on a Caribbean island, a wreck that had been there for 100 years when the expedition found it. As the Authority has the only known temporal displacement stage on Earth, as well as a strict policy against sending futuristic technology into past eras, it is clear that they didn’t send it, and Jason assembles a team to go to the seventeenth century and search for Tranhumanist activity.
They do not have to search for long, either: soon after they arrive they encounter Tranhumanist goons who are pursuing Zenobia, a formidable and resourceful female pirate who, as it turns out, is more than she appears to be, and who is also an acquaintance one of the biggest names in the region during that time: Henry Morgan. Yes, the Henry Morgan.
To synopsize any further would have us sailing into The Spoiler Triangle, but when Morgan appears the story shifts into not just high gear, but hyperdrive. In fact, the book might as well be called The Adventures of Henry Morgan and All Those Other Not Quite as Interesting People. It is clear that White is having an absolute blast at this point, because Morgan practically swaggers off the page and helps himself to the contents of the liquor cabinet; he steals every scene he’s in. And this is not an exaggeration: Henry Morgan really was that much bigger-than-life.
Steve White loves history; it informs in some way or other every book he has written; any time a historical detail comes up you can bet that it has been scrupulously researched, and Pirates of the Timestream is no different. As he has done with his previous Temporal Regulatory Authority stories, White provides a peek “behind the curtain” in his Author’s Notes.
Steve White’s latest is a must-read for fans of science fiction, time travel, or old-fashioned bigger-than-life sea epics. Even the cover art has a piratical twist: it was produced by Don Maitz, whose best-known work is the image of the character that adorns bottles of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. One can just picture Henry Morgan himself reclining on a sun-drenched Jamaica beach, reading Steve’s book with a flagon close to hand of the rum that carries his name.
Review of Tour of Duty: Stories and Provocations by Michael Z. Williamson (Baen trade paperback, August 6, 2013)
This is a volume of short stories and short non-fiction pieces by the author of the Freehold series. If you are unfamiliar with Michael Z Williamson, his non-fiction pieces will give you an idea of how interesting he is. He is extremely funny as he writes about manly things, tells of his adventures with the police, tells stories from his deployments and writes as his SCA persona. His sense of humor must have come from the Scottish side of his family as this Scottish-English, Canadian, American writes with a quirky sense of humor for an American. He reminds the reviewers of Scottish humor they see in the UK.
His stories set in Freehold and in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar universe are all well written and interesting. He writes some very odd characters who, if they were RPG characters, would have many quirks and sometimes even mental disadvantages. In his non-fiction he writes about firearms (he deals in bladed weapons at many SF conventions including Dragon Con) and manly things like grilling. His real life adventures make for interesting reading although many were probably not very fun times for him and his family members when they occurred. He is involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism and attends Pennsic every year, so some of his writings are from his character, Crazy Einar. Some of the Valdemar stories are written with his wife, Gail Sanders, whom he describes as a one night stand that hasn’t gone home after more than 20 years. Like many geeky couples, including your humble reviewers who met at a Star Trek fan club meeting, Mike met his wife at a geeky gathering, a convention. She was wearing leather, spandex, boots and a sword and he swore it was a one night stand. A month later she drove to Milwaukee to join him at another convention, then the next month she stopped by his apartment on her way to Florida, but she never got to Florida and still hasn’t. It is 22 years later and Gail is still there.
If you like a good warrior story with realistic weapons and fighting, but heart and characterization, then give Mike’s work a try. The story stories in this volume will provide a good sample, but his novels are good too. Check the Baen website for info: http://www.baen.com .
The Exploding Spaceship Family Reading Release Day Edition – Reviews of Control by Kim Curran and Weight of Souls by Bryony PearcePosted: 6 August, 2013
Review of Control by Kim Curran (Strange Chemistry paperback, August 6, 2013)
This young adult science fiction tale is set in modern day Britain and centers on a group of teens who work for the Agency for the Regulation and Evaluation of Shifters, or ARES for short. Shifters are people who can go back over their life choices and take an alternative path; normally, only teens are shifters, but adults can acquire the ability by having that section of a child’s brain that grants this power transplanted into their own, a surgical procedure that is highly illegal. Scott and Aubrey are teens who are responsible for finding those shifting adults and capturing them. Control is the second volume in the series with the first one being called Shift.
Shifters come in different types including ones who can use their abilities to influence the decisions of others. Running into an adult with this power makes Scott and Aubrey’s job very difficult and dangerous. Scott can remember the alternate realities that he was experiencing before the shift so he realizes when things change but not necessarily what was shifted to create the new reality. He can also fix things so other shifters can’t change their decisions. Aubrey can spot shift points but she can’t remember previous realities.
The two teens find all the adult shifters but one, of whom they can find no trace. Eventually someone who knows the adult gives them a clue and they are able to find the last one. The fight with the last adult shifter is complicated, dangerous, involves multiple shifts and some major society changes including one which has a major impact on Scott and Aubrey’s relationship. It will be interesting to see the story pick up from here because the tone will be very different because of the society changes.
Scott and Aubrey are interesting teens who seem typical of British teens, but for an American audience they may seem very independent for their age, particularly when it comes to getting around by themselves. Their relationship is kind of a blur between best friends and young lovers which is typical of teens, who often get together because they share an interest, in this case the ability to shift, which results in a job for a government group which acts as kind of a school for shifters. The Britain they inhabit is realistic, but the various shifts mean it is not our modern day Britain. It is interesting to see the teens running around Britain but a version which may suddenly result in a strange building or a missing building compared to our world. American readers should find the British setting interesting and informative without the story being filled with data dumps. Solving a mystery while people shift your reality results in some interesting changes and coincidences which allow Aubrey and Scott to find the last adult shifter but they are left in a very different situation in how the ARES operates and what each of their positions in ARES are. The next book will be in a universe which will have completely new rules from the one in place when this book started so having the characters explore that world will be interesting and different from the first two volumes. The characters and plot are interesting enough to keep an adult interested and the type of decisions the teens choose to change could be an important family discussion point if both young adults and parents read the book. For any readers of near future science fiction whether they be teens or adults, this is a good reading choice.
Review of The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce (Strange Chemistry hardback Aug 6, 2013)
This story is an urban fantasy, but the only fantastical elements are the ghosts seen by the main character. Taylor Oh is a 16 year old high school student who is not in the popular crowd at her school. Taylor is cursed such that if the ghost of a murder victim touches her, a black mark results and the only way to remove the mark is to solve the problem and help the ghost move on. School bully Justin and his gang torment Taylor and everyone else who is not part of the “in” crowd.
Things take a turn for the strange when Justin is murdered, and then his ghost touches Taylor when he realizes she can see him but does not realize what his touch will do.
There’s a small problem with removing the mark: Justin doesn’t know who killed him so Taylor doesn’t know who to go after to transfer the mark to them. Taylor has to spend time with Justin’s ghost and with his friends, and get herself into their group in order to find out the truth. This leads to some interesting changes among the personal relationships of the high school students.
The story is set in London and Taylor seems to be a typical teen other than the curse problem and the fact that her mother is dead. For American readers she will appear to be very independent and mature, and the setting will be interesting because of its cultural differences. The mixing of cultures and religions in neighborhoods without anyone thinking about it is common in Britain, but is different from the cultural situation in the US, so the way teens of different colors and cultures relate to one another will be an interesting discovery for US teens. The teens going into a pub will probably shock some American readers but this is typical in Britain. You think her high school is a typical one until she begins to understand exactly what the “in” crowd does in their spare time. This activity is what resulted in Justin’s death and the resolution for his ghost takes a long time and results in great risk to Taylor.
Taylor is an in depth character and you get a good depiction of her dad as well (and it is not a very favorable view of him or of his relationship to his dead wife). She has one friend named Hannah, who is poorly used by Taylor and gets somewhat the bad end of the situation by the end of the book. Justin is actually more of a character as a ghost than he is before his death because as a ghost he actually explains himself to Taylor, which he never did before he was killed.
The plot is structured much like a murder mystery since in this case the victim’s ghost doesn’t know the truth either, but all is eventually revealed and is more complicated than expected, being more motivated by the desire to keep secrets than any desire to kill Justin. Taylor makes some decisions which push her limits so extremely that you think she might break, but as many teens have shown, that age is usually able to bounce back from stress.
This is a good read for those who like a good ghost story, or like urban fantasy which is heavy on the urban and light on the fantasy (no elves or fairies here, just sometimes desperate ghosts). For American readers the London setting is different and enlightening. The interpersonal relationships are well done and most of the characters have something in them which can draw sympathy from readers but the father/daughter relationship is unusual in some ways, but typical once the father’s motivation is understood. The views of the different groups in the high school and what they think and feel is quite realistic and informative and could possibly be helpful for readers to understand groups they are not part of. Taylor switches groups as the book progresses so the reader gets multiple group viewpoints. This is definitely one of the most interesting and engrossing high school tales Your Humble Reviewers have read in a long time. It should keep other adults interested as well, plus the teen/parent issues could definitely make for some interesting family discussion.
The Exploding Spaceship Release Day Edition: Review of Three by Jay Posey and Review of Queen of Wands by John RingoPosted: 30 July, 2013
Review of Three (Angry Robot Books, July 30, 2013)
Three: Legends of the Duskwalker Book 1 is a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy about bounty hunter Three and his adventures trying to keep himself and sometimes others safe in a very dangerous world. After sunset every day the Weir, monstrous beings which used to be human but were taken over by cybernetics, attack humans anyplace they can reach them. They can track anything which accesses the net, which means most people since implants for communication are the norm. The only way to stay safe from them and not have to hide is to completely avoid the net and use hard currency instead of cards.
The world is sort of an urban desert with small clusters of humanity in protected areas. Larger cities survived but they have gates and security to keep out the Weir. Three is a bounty hunter who finds those wanted by different enclaves of humans and returns them to the place offering the reward. This means he travels constantly and has a few scattered friends but not really anywhere to call home.
While waiting for an agent to gather enough hard currency to pay the bounty he was collecting, Three meets a woman, Cass, and her son Wren, who are being chased by some genetically modified goons. The bounty hunter helps the two of them get away from a couple of goons, and when he leaves town he takes them with him.
This leads to numerous dangerous treks across the land in order to stay safe and eventually deliver the boy to his father because his mother is dying due to the damage done to her system by drugs. Three had always been a loner and would never have helped anybody, but for some reason this little boy tugged at his heart. As they travel, Three and Wren start to bond as Three keeps them safe and shows them places to go. When Three realizes that people are trying to take Wren because he is a special child, he starts teaching him to use a little knife in self-defense. Cass is concerned but realizes it is better if Wren is not wholly dependent on the adults for his survival.
Cass is an interesting mother character, who will do anything for her child, even if she doesn’t survive it. Sometimes she makes decisions which have bad consequences because she uses things which can be tracked in order to feel safer for the moment or to determine where they are instead of trusting Three. As time passes, she realizes that Three cares for Wren, so she trusts him more and feels she won’t leave Wren alone if she dies. Wren comes to treat Three like a father or a much older brother, and Three treats Wren the same way in return.
Three can’t quite figure out how he ended up traveling with the two in tow: something just told him not to leave them behind even though he had always done so for everyone he had met in the past. By the end of their journey in this book, he has had thoughts of maybe having a family and has found somewhere he might actually consider living. These are radical thoughts for him and show how much he has changed during the journey. It will be interesting to see what he does in further volumes, since this is Book 1 of the Legends of the Duskwalker.
Review of Queen of Wands by John Ringo (Baen hardback August 2012, paperback August 2013)
Queen of Wands is the sequel to Princess of Wands. This Ringo urban fantasy book has a strong heroine who fights monsters as a Christian holy warrior using a special sword or a gun (but only really heavy guns or a holy sword work on the monsters in this volume). Barbara Everett is a mom and wife who works for the Foundation for Love and Universal Faith, which subcontracts to the FBI when the weirdness of the cases warrants it. All of the foundation members are holy warriors of some type, but they run the gamut from Christian, Hindu, Wiccan, and pagan to Asatru, who worship the Norse gods.
The fight against an age old type of monster sends an Asatru worshipper to fight on the astral plane, but some other foundation members manage to get her to a neutral area and go to see if they can get her out. The area of the astral plane where she is located is a depiction of Dragon Con, complete with costume contests, con suite, panels and strange guests who may not be who they appear to be. Poor Janea does not even know what happened to her to make her end up at a convention, much less realize how to get out. She gets some pointers from some nice folks who will be very familiar if you have attended Dragon Con or other cons in the southeast.
Barbara and her fellow warriors are well-developed characters who inhabit a slightly strange version of our world with a government which is even crazier than our present-day one. The plot moves along quickly, and there are the usual dead redshirts and cool weapons in Ringo’s fight scenes, although it is a pleasant change for the weapons to be melee weapons instead of guns. The body count potential is very high, but the actual death toll does not reach the epic levels of some of Ringo’s books. The setting in Chattanooga (Ringo’s hometown) is very realistic and well described, plus the astral plane version of Atlanta and Dragon Con is detailed and quite realistic even if not on our plane.
If you like a good urban fantasy with real geography, then this is a good read for you. Buy it before or at Dragon Con and you might even be able to get it autographed because as usual, Ringo will be at Dragon Con.