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The Red Wolf Conspiracy: vol. 1
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Since starting to read more fantasy this year there have been a few novels that get good recommendations from sources I trust. The Red Wolf Conspiracy by debut author Robert V.S.Redick is one that falls into this category and has come to my attention now because of the release of the sequel, The Rats and the Ruling Sea. Whenever a series gets a new addition talk of the previous books comes up and I was pleased to hear what I did - enough to make sure that I had the first book read and ready for the sequel upon its release. Well, not quite, but almost! What I found in The Red Wolf Conspiracy was a book that gave me what I enjoy in fiction these days - interesting characters, a great setting and world building, and a story that has a depth to it that gives the reader much to think about.
The first thing I have to talk about is the setting, and specifically the Chathrand - look at the cover above and it will give you an idea of the sheer size of this thing. The Chathrand is a character in its own right and is the last of the Great Ships. The descriptions that Robert VS Redick uses when talking of the Chathrand are superb and bring some great visualisations, although he does not bog down the story with unnecessary passages, everything we read has a purpose and we learn about the ships along with the characters.
With the Chathrand used for a supposed voyage of peace between two empires - Mzithrin and Arqual - that have a long and bloodied history, we have many different characters and races on board for the journey. Among these is Captain Rose, the former captainchosen once again to run the ship, although to the disdain of many people due to his violent history. We also have Thasha, daughter of the Arqualian Emperor's ambassador, who is due to marry into the Mzithrini to cement the peace everyone is hoping for. Perhaps the main character of the novel is a young tarboy by the name of Pazel Pathkendle, the son of a traitor and in possession of a unique gift that allows him to understand any language when it is spoken - very helpful on a ship where many are spoken.
Redick handles the characters with flair and allows the meetings and exchanges between them to show more than simple story progression. We get to find out more of the history ofAlifros, what preconceptions and prejudices that certain characters and countries have, and also what motivates the characters. I know this is something that should be done in every good novel, butRedick manages to build characters that are relatable and enjoyable while never losing sight of the wider picture.
Some of the other things I found I enjoyed with The Red Wolf Conspiracy were the more typical fantasy elements. Magic is practiced and spells areimparted with great effort involved, while the hint at another world elsewhere is made clear when relating to one particular character. We also have many creatures, from the tinyIxchel to the huge Augrong, that populate this world which Redick has created. We also have 'woken' animals, those that have gained sentience, and although this is interesting, it does raise some questions on how and why this happens. Still, the world of The Red Wolf Conspiracy is truly amazing and has much to admire.
I would say that picking up The Red Wolf Conspiracy has left me wanting much more of what Robert V.S. Redick has to offer. Luckily I can jump straight into The Rats and the Ruling Sea and continue to follow this great journey. Only problem I have now is the waiting until the third book is released - blast these fantasy writers and their multiple volume stories!!
The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three
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The second book in the Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three, is the continuing story of Roland on his quest to the Dark Tower. Picking up where the events of The Gunslinger left us, Roland has aged by almost ten years after his encounter with the Man in Black and is faced with a huge stretch of beach which he must now travel. Not only does Roland have to face this journey with little food or water, but he is soon attacked by lobster creatures that take off fingers from his right hand after which he is inflicted with a fever that grows ever worse. But all this is just a background to the bigger picture - the doors he finds along the beach that lead back to our world and into the heads of certain individuals.
The Drawing of the Three takes Roland and puts him firmly in an unknown situation, with some very interesting results. Thrown into our world is a completely different experience for Roland and we see this immediately with his conversations with people he encounters. What is worse is the fact that as he's taking over the body of someone else to do it and putting himself in danger in the process. However, King does a good job with Roland and lets us see more of his character and personality through these situations. Roland may be a stranger to these places, but he sure isn't stupid and knows what needs to be done - and how.
The interaction between Roland and the people he must communicate with is great. As the title suggests, there are three doors he must enter in order to draw his three. The first of these is Eddie Dean, a junkie and native New Yorker. Eddie is an interesting character because of his flaws and the fact that he isn't just another doped up waster. He has something special about him but has been led into the wrong situations in the past which has ended him up in some serious trouble. The second door leads to Odetta Holmes and Detta Walker, one woman with split personalities. Roland senses the difference in these two immediately - one is kindly while the other is vicious, all of which goes back to an incident in their childhood. Not only this, but Odetta/Detta has lost her legs and is bound to a wheelchair which does not help Roland in is journey across a difficult terrain. The last door leads to Jack Mort, a man whose private life is in stark contrast to his successful career. He is a murderous man behind the false front, pushing innocent bystanders into traffic, trains and anything else he can get away with without notice.
It's difficult for me to say too much about the encounters that Roland has with these people with really spoiling the story, but King has weaved a very impressive story here. Many fates are intertwined and the repercussions of the events here are going to be felt for a while to come. The interactions between the characters, specifically with Roland, is very interesting and we get to see more of what makes Roland such a formidable person, and not only through his fighting. There is always a sense of danger throughout The Drawing of the Three and I never once felt the story was playing it safe, all of which made the pages turn all the quicker. Some of the twists here work very well and although hinted at during the story I didn't fully appreciate the impact until the end, which has left the story open to progress at a good strong pace.
The Drawing of the Three is another reason to pick up this series and is a strong novel in its own right, although even at book two you must have read the first installment to fully appreciate many of the events. Highly recommended.
Fast Ships, Black Sails
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I like pirate stories, they have this quality about them that instantly draws me to them. I'll be honest and say I don't read half as much as I should do when it comes to this subject, but what I have read in the past has always given me that warm feeling inside that I get when I really enjoy something. It's not only books that do this, films also find their way into the house at some point or other, and nothing beats a good old pirate story. So, a collection of such stories should be something I would enjoy more than anything else, or at least I thought so. Fast Ships, Black Sails hit the mark on a few occasions, but on others it didn't come close...
In their introduction Ann and Jeff VanderMeer say how they were surprised at the breadth and difference of stories they received for the anthology. I can certainly agree with them on that point - there are many stories that are not your typical pirate tales. While this is a good thing for the sake of diversity, I found that some of the stories just didn't live up to the potential of the anthology and it left me disappointed because of this fact. However, the stories in here that I did enjoy were excellent and showed just how such a diversity can help a collection like this.
Some of my favourites were: Boojum by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, a story of space age pirates aboard a sentient starship; Castor on Troubled Waters by Rhys Hughes, an amusing story of one man telling a tale to his two friends in a pub; Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake by Naomi Novik, a tale of a woman using magic to turn herself into a man when the ship she is aboard is attacked by pirates; The Adventures of Captain Black Heart Wentworth: A Nautical Tail by Rachel Swirsky, a great story looking at two pirate rats in love with a cat; The Whale Below by Jayme Lynn Blaschke, a story of a ship stumbling on the remains of a whale with three mysteriously empty ships surrounding it.
I did enjoy other stories in this anthology, but those were the highlights for me. There were a few that I just didn't care for and couldn't really tell you much about them as they didn't stick in my mind much at all once I'd finished them. I'd have to say that this is a collection of stories that have split me down the middle when it comes to my thoughts on the whole anthology. Those that I enjoyed were top notch, but those I didn't felt like a waste of my time. Is this an anthology I'd recommend? Well, yes, but with reservations.
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Ender's Game is another classic of the genre that I found myself drawn towards recently. I'm always hesitant when it comes to reading such praised novels and always wonder whether or not I'll come away disappointed. Luckily enough I found that wasn't the case with Ender's Game. A novel that can pull you along at such speed while delivering some thoughtful ideas is a joy. Not only did Ender's Game manage this, it also put across a great story with very entertaining characters.
The story is one mainly of Ender, although there are some sections where we have a look his older brother and sister - Peter and Valentine - and what they are doing since Ender left. Ender is a great character that is enjoyable to read while he is also one that can be sympathised with. The situation he is in puts extreme pressure on his abilities and those in charge of the battle school make nothing easy on Ender, forcing him to understand that if he cannot do things by himself he will get no help from adults. The friendships that he makes take on a different role as the story progresses and the implications of such are interesting to a child of his age, not that he is ever treated as a child.
The whole idea of the battle school and the games that are involved within it are excellent. I thought the way in which it was handled was good and the introduction of the battle room, along with the games that can be played, gave the story a solid centre around which to expand. I love tactical games and can easily waste hours of my time away at them so I would love to see something like the zero gravity battle room in action. The way in which Ender changes the way the game is played by introducing new tactics shows how far it goes to deciding the winner. However, the unfair treatment of Ender goes to show what lengths people will go to when they want something badly enough and the effect it has on those involved, an interesting subject for children so young.
Speaking of the age of the children in Ender's Game - this is the only place I found myself in the situation of not quite believing what the story was telling me. The children at battle school are aged from 6 up and their behaviour seems a little too old for them. I fully understand the reasoning behind it, but to make it truly realistic they would need to be from 10 up - try and picture a 6 year old doing what they do in battle school and it feels wrong. The same goes for the sections looking at Peter and Valentine - kids doing politics at their age did stretch the imagination a little.
Despite these little problems with Ender's Game I thought it was an excellent book. Not only did give some memorable characters, it also looked at what the human race is capable of when it faces something it fears can destroy it. Without a doubt this is one of my most enjoyable reads of the year and I would recommend it to anyone - with the above reservations. Now just to hope the sequels live up to the standard set here...
I've not read any of Cory Doctorow's stuff before, but after what I had heard about the acclaimed Little Brother I sure wanted to get stuck in. Makers is Cory's latest book and while he's serialising it for free on the Tor.com webiste, it's being released in the UK by Harper Voyager at the end of October. I'll be honest and say that I wasn't too sure what to expect from Makers - the blurb hints at plenty going on - so when I started reading it to find a story that was interesting and characters I could relate to I knew I was on to a winner.
Lester, Perry and Suzanne are our main charcaters throughout Makers and while there are others that come and go, these are the ones that are at the core of the story. Lester and Perry are two guys that are creating some cool and unique stuff with their 3d printers that they sell for a nice amount to various people around the world. Their relaxed and chilled out attitude lets them get on with their stuff and everything ticks over nicely. They don't like the corporate side of things and just want to make stuff and not get caught up in the business side of their trade. I especially liked this about them as it made them instantly relatable, but it also allowed Doctorow to bring in other charcaters that contributed to the story very effectively.
Suzanne is the journalist tasked with documenting Lester and Perry while they inadvertently pioneer the New Work economy. Because of the honest and live commentary on the comings and goings with Lester and Perry, Suzanne becomes a worldwide success on her blog. She's an honest person that does believe in freedom of speech and that what goes on should not be hidden or kept from the public. Suzanne is also a nice contrast to Lester and Perry with the way she works - it's not all laid back. I also enjoyed her interaction with the two guys and the way the relationships mature and change throughout the novel.
The whole idea put across with the New Work deal in the early parts of Makers is pretty amazing and very realistic - Doctorow is a very capable storyteller that can also bring great ideas to the table. Not only does he show how a future economy might look like, he then takes it further and shows the evolution of such an economy. The whole plot is based around the ideas and work of Perry and Lester and told through their eyes (with the occasional detour) and this works extremely well in allowing the reader relate to what they are doing and the reasons behind it. The corporate politics that come into play also show how the world is adapting to the innovative ideas and methods employed by Lester and Perry and how the trust of certain people can be betrayed for the good fortune of others.
Although Makers comes under the sci-fi banner, it's more of a study of how technology can evolve to affect everyday life in the corporate world. One of the only problems I found with Makers is its lenght - it could easily have been shortened and would have been much tighter for it. The central idea is hi-tech and interesting, but because of the length it is enjoyable rather than excellent. For a near future story with some hi-tech ideas then this is a novel to engross yourself in - hell, it's a damn good read regardless. Enjoyable and recommended.
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Stealing Light came out in 2007 and was a book I really enjoyed. There's been a two year wait for the sequel, a long time in book terms, but after a strong first book and a title like Nova War it was always going to be a must read. I picked it up with great anticipation and was thoroughly pleased with what I found - Gary has moved from the more focused story of Stealing Light on to a widescreen look at the problems facing the species in the galaxy because of those events, all of which has made for some compulsive reading!
We start off pretty much where Stealing Light left us - Dakota Merrick and Lucas Corso are in a Bandati system and are their prisoners. The derelict Magi spaceship is being held, along with Dakota's ship the Piri Reis, by the Bandati in one of their secure stations in the system. Not only this, but with the rival Bandati factions drifting toward opposite sides in a dangerous and escalating war the stakes are being constantly raised. Add to this the fact that Trader, a member of the Shoal we know from Stealing Light, is behind some decisions and actions that will have a lasting effect on the galaxy. What Nova War does is give a story from the perspective of characters we know that are now in a dangerous situation that effects not only them, but the whole galaxy - and Gary does a damned good job of it.
Although the start is fairly slow paced, the scenes with Dakota, Trader and the Bandati show us that there is much going on in the background that we don't know yet. We get to find out the details along with Dakota and follow her as she takes whatever action she can to protect herself. The initial prisoner scenes were done very well and helped to show how vulnerable Dakota is, but also to show how her relationship with Derelict is developing and growing. This helps to put a lot in perspective and allows some hidden secrets to come out of the woodwork which in turn gets the pages turning all the quicker.
Another aspect I really enjoyed were the alien species and civilisations that are present. The Bandati are especially impressive and it appears that there is so much effort and thought gone into their creations - everything feels real and totally believable. The history that comes through the story raises more questions about the Bandati, the Shoal, the Emissaries and the Magi. With four strong species in this book I felt spoilt while reading it and never felt out of my depth when the action switched from one to the other.
Nova War is a great example of intelligent and thoughtful space opera that delivers a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read. As the second book in a series it builds very successfully on the foundation laid in Stealing Light and also gives plenty to carry through to the next book (which I just can't wait for!). For an enthralling widescreen space opera with characters and aliens that are both interesting and engrossing this is the books to read. Very highly recommended.
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After I read Orphanage at the end of last year I was eager to see where the series went. I knew there were another four available and I was interested to see just how the series would progress from the promising beginnings. What Orphan's Destiny does is take the series in a different direction, although not totally unexpected it is a pleasant surprise.
Orphan's Destiny sticks with the established first person narrative from the point of view of Jason Wander, now General after the battle of Ganymede, as the survivors of the battle await rescue and return to Earth. We also have the same characters from Orphanage along for the ride - Howard the techy, Munchkin his friend and pilot as well as new mother of the first baby born off Earth and Brumby, his fellow soldier. We are also introduced to Ruth, advisor to Jason, who is tasked with making him the media friendly returning war hero. All of these characters have their own voices, but it is Jason's that makes the story so interesting and compelling and the main reason I found Orphan's Destiny so enjoyable.
Jason is your typical grunt on the ground. He's made mistakes in the past and due to his encounters with the slugs he has a unique perspective on the situation. Being promoted to General through the death of others is not the way he wants to progress though, but with Earth looking towards a hero that saved the planet he's kept as one anyway. It's during the return to Earth and the subsequent months there that we see exactly what impact the war on Ganymede has had on the planet Earth. Budgets are low and governments are looking to save wherever they can. This all translates into a pretty miserable place for the majority of the population, and with the slugs defeated humanity believe they can move forward.
It's during these early looks at life on Earth that I found myself drawn even more into the character of Jason Wander and the world he inhabits. Truthfully I was expecting to see more action than we had, but this different approach raised my enjoyment of the story. Buettner is not afraid to give us something a little different, something that doesn't necessarily tie in immediately with the expectations a military sf series like this usually demands. It all works so well and allows us to realise that there are consequences to the actions taken in the first story.
However, once the slugs turn up again in force humanity realise just how their recent decisions may have damaged them in the overall survival stakes. All of this i put across extremely well and although I was glad to see the action build up, I was also pleased that it didn't come at the cost of continued character and setting development. The action is just as good as the first book, although I will freely admit that the odds overcome this time round were starting to verge on the unbelievable. I won't go into detail, but suffice to say that Buettner has lay down some very interesting concepts here that do help in partly lifting the ending into more realistic territory.
All in all Orphan's Destiny was a good sequel and a worthy continuation of the story. One thing I don't like is repetitiveness, and although there is little doubt that we'll see more of the same in the future volumes, there is plenty here to give a damned good indication that it will be worth coming back to.
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Orbus is the new book from Neal Asher, one of the most inventive and imaginative authors on the market today, and is the third book in the Spatterjay series (preceded by The Skinner and Voyage of the Sable Keech). I love Neal's work - let me get that out of the way first - and think that the Polity universe of his books is one of the best settings in the sci-fi genre, and with Neal's infinite imagination he's populated it with everything you could possibly think of - and then some. The only question that I had before starting Orbus was how Neal could take the story forward and give us another breathtaking novel. I shouldn't have questioned even that, he has delivered an excellent story, great characters and some very interesting and unique twists and mutations that are a staple of his writings, not to mention that this could very well be his best book to date...
The first thing I noticed when reading Orbus was the writing style. Neal has always been very much an action-centred writer that sometimes gives rough edges to his novels, but Orbus is so well polished and the style so smooth I did a quick double take just to make sure I was reading the right book. I enjoy the way Neal tells a story, but this refinement in his writing has elevated him to the top tiers of science fiction writing today. The most important thing about this growth is that it hasn't negatively affected the way he tells a story at all - all the action, description and weirdness is still as present as ever, but this time everything was even more enjoyable and the words created such a vivid picture in my mind I was constantly putting the book down to just enjoy these huge scenes playing about inside my head. Truly impressive stuff.
As for the story and characters, let me tell you one thing: this is the most fun I've had reading a book for a long time. Orbus, the recovering sadistic Old Captain of the title, is going through mental changes after the conclusion of Voyage of the Sable Keech and while we are with him on the journey we get some interesting and thoughtful looks into his personality. We also have Vrell, the Spatterjay virus mutated Prador, who, with his growing intellect, is capable of increasingly complex things. Seeing his character growth is staggering and the times we follow him are some of the most interesting in the novel. We also have the viewpoint of Golgoloth, a Prador legend that is hiding out in the Graveyard, which is another extremely interesting aspect, as are the times we follow King Oberon himself, ruler of the Prador Third Kingdom. I can't forget to mention Sniper of course, your friendly neighbourhood war drone, who brings both humour and tactics (of the not-so-subtle variety) to the table and is easily the most down-right enjoyable character.
The story is set at a good pace and although there are scene-setting sections, it never feels that anything is put on hold to accommodate these. Even at the start when Orbus first arrives in the Graveyard we have some nice action orientated scenes where we not only get to see an Old Captain in action, but also war drone, a cored and thralled human and a vicious Prador. We also get a good set up from Vrell's point of view while he is taking over the dreadnought he is on which allows us to see his growing capabilities and the workings of his mind to formulate a plan. The narrative doesn't let up for most of the novel and although this could have led to too much of a good thing, it really doesn't.
To be honest I'd be hard pushed to name a character that didn't work or a section of story that was blander than others. Orbus hits every nail on the head, every time. Neal has not only delivered an excellent, enthralling and action-packed story,
Wrath of the Lemming-men
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Now Smith and his crew must defend the Empire and civilise the stuffing out of a horde of bloodthirsty lemming-men- which would be easy were it not for a sinister robotics company, a Ghast general with a fondness for genetic engineering and an ancient brotherhood of Morris Dancers- who may yet hold the key to victory...
I stumbled across Space Captain Smith and God Emperor of Didcot last year and enjoyed them so much all I can do is recommend them to anyone that will listen, whether they like sci-fi or not. Toby Frost managed to write not only a laugh-out-loud space romp, but one that holds up well enough if you take all the humour away and start looking at the back bone of the stories - the world he has created. It just works so well and because of the fun I had with the first two novels Wrath of the Lemming Men was pretty much my most anticipated book of the year and the sooner I could get it through the letterbox the better. Not only did it meet my expectations, but once again Toby is expanding more and more from the base he set up in Space Captain Smith.
What I enjoyed most about Wrath of the Lemming Men was the fact that we're now on the third novel and following the crew of the John Pym again through their adventures. I know this sounds simple - and it is - but I feel that when I start reading these characters I'm not only whole heartedly enjoying reading about them, but I'm also running through my mind just what they'll say and do in the situation they're in. I feel at home when they come on page - Smith, Carveth, Suruk, Rhianna, they all feel like old friends now.
The bad guys are as bad and awful as ever with Ghast Commander 462 and his evil plots and the Yullian General Vock, one of the Lemming-Men of the title. The bad guys are what brings the novel together and the on page interaction between these two totally different aliens is great. Toby has really hit the nail on the head with the characters and despite the many humorous and tongue-in-cheek moments, he makes them feel like a threat, which is great for our tea-drinking heroes!
The world building this time around seems to have got better, and with two previous books now supporting the universe it's evident that Toby has taken a little extra time to develop it further. Yes, the jokes and parodies are present in droves, but they fit in to this excellent setting and although it can make it feel light hearted, it also brings a little more depth to the novel.
In the story itself we follow Smith and his crew from planet to planet on the hunt for the Vorl before the Ghast find them. Not only that, but the Yull have joined the battle and want nothing more than to kill all humans, at least when not tempted to jump off cliffs. The story flows well and although a little jumpy, it flies by at such a pace that it doesn't leave too much down time. However, the slower sections help to show the strengths that Toby has at creating a fairly believable universe. But ultimately, the fun doesn't stop for too long and we get a great and well rounded tale of adventure.
At the end of the day I could go on about how great Wrath of the Lemming Men is and how much I love the Space Captain Smith books, but I'm sure that would get more than a little annoying no matter how true it is. If you've not yet read any of the Space Captain Smith books then you're not only missing out on a good read, but a great cast of characters and some of the most humorous writing I've come across in quite a while.
Go out, buy the book, kick your feet up with some tea and biscuits and enjoy yourself a damned good read!
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Xenopath is the second Bengal Station book by Eric Brown, focusing on a telepathic detective based in a huge spaceport off the coast of India. The first novel, Necropath, was a joy to read last year and it certainly whetted my appetite for more stories focusing on Jeff Vaughan and his abilities. With Xenopath I was hoping that the general feeling would be carried through and that the characters would continue to be as enjoyable as they were in Necropath. I was pleasantly surprised in the direction it went and managed to blast through it with no problem at all!
Set two years after Necropath, Jeff Vaughan has now married Sakura and they are expecting their first child. After having his pin removed he now works outside of the investigative area and enjoys a quiet, although not wealthy, life. This was the first thing that struck me when reading Xenopath. Gone is the depressed and moody Jeff Vaughan and here we are with a happy and content one, enjoying his life with Sakura even though they live in a relatively small apartment and don't have too much to show for themselves. What does come across very well is the love that Jeff and Sakura show for each other. It's a very real and very well written relationship - if you've ever been in love then you can relate to the deep feeling between the two and just how well Eric Brown puts that across.
So, it's clear from the off that we've got a different type of novel here with different motivations and well structured character relationships. When we move on to the investigative and telepathic side of things, once Jeff has had a new well paid job and state-of-the-art implant, the novel kicks into gear and moves along at a good and steady pace. The set-up is established and the case starts to get deeper and deeper until the pieces start to point to one place - but why? This is what kept me turning the pages and trying to figure out just what exactly was going on. It's fairly obvious from early on what the outcome could be, but the questions of how? why? when? what? - you know, that feeling you get when you're really enjoying a story and just want to get to the part where it all gets explained - pushes you on and on.
I was more than happy with the conclusion and Eric Brown managed to write a damned good story and got it across in a very effective way. I can't say that this is better than Necropath, but it certainly is different. The tone is lighter and more optimistic and the ideas and concepts dealt with are bigger, but it's just as good a read. I would recommend this without hesitation and strongly suggest that you start the journey from the beginning to fully appreciate it. Here's looking to book 3, Cosmopath!