Category Archives: Science Fiction

The Eyre Affair

The Eyre AffairUnknown.jpeg

by: Jasper Fforde

Penguin Books, New York, NY 2001

ISBN: 0-670-03064-3

Jasper Fforde has a delightful literary world populated by Thursday Next who words for the Special Operations Network.  That’s a government organization that deals with the repercussions of the literary world leaking over into what is essentially modern England.

Of course things are a little different too,  like Wales as an independent state and the mega-corporation (the Goliath corporation) that controls most of the world.  Thursday’s father was a SpecOps agent too.  He worked in the ChronoGuard.  When the literary world leaks, time travel and all of it’s potential and flaws leak as well.  Someone needs to keep an eye on the historical time line.  That would be ChronoGuard.  They may, or may not always be successful.  It certainly gives Fforde plenty of leeway for a world that isn’t “quite” the one we live in.

The world Fforde has evolved is a readers delight.  People CARE about literature.  Fforde writes with wit and literary allusions on every page.  People change their names to match their favorite characters.  Shakespeare machines recite scenes for a quarter on the street corners.  I’ve read several of his novels from this series.  I’ve probably even read this one before.   That’s the problem.

These books are too clever by far.  They engage, they entertain, but (at least for me) they don’t stick.  I never find myself totally immersed in the story (although occasionally Fforde’s characters do).   I’m too busy catching the references, laughing at the puns embedded in the character names, and even joining the debate about who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

When I read one of these novels I know I’m in for a quick romp with lots of nods to the reader on the side.  They are great books for waiting rooms and long rides.  I may pick one up from time to time just because I’m intrigued with the title.   I’m never going to be a real fan.


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Remnant Population

Remnant PopulationUnknown

by: Elizabeth Moon

Del Rey – Random House Publishing Group NY, NY 1996

ISBN: 978-0-345-46219-0

Every once in a while my local library will order a new copy of an old book.  In this case it’s the Ballantine Books paperback edition.  I’m a fan of Elizabeth Moon as an author, but I’ve not gone out of my way to read everything she’s ever written.  I do have her tagged though, so when the library DOES order a book, I get it.

Elizabeth Moon is notorious for writing from what I would call “uncommon” points of view.  Her protagonists tend to be disabled in some way that would make society dismiss their worth.  It is Ms. Moon’s gift to be able to recognize that worth and put her protagonists in circumstances that allow those inherent qualities to flourish.

The uncommon heroine of this story, (and heroine already makes her uncommon) is an elderly, uneducated woman.  It is clear from the beginning that Ofelia has spent the majority of her life in a colony with very strict rules of propriety and gender roles.  She has learned to play her part, placating the dominator, and avoiding them,  so that she is only mildly abused.

When the colony is forced to relocate it is made explicitly clear that Ofelia is excess baggage.  No one expects her to survive the trip to the new planet.  Even though it is not “allowed” she chooses to stay behind.  She hides from the authorities knowing that she’s not worth the trouble for them to find her.

The freedom of no one telling her what to do allows that small inner voice to come forward.  We discover she is knowledgeable, capable, artistic and so does she.  The memories of that wonderful point in girlhood where we trust ourselves to be able to do anything come forward and guide Ofelia’s choices.  The “should” voice fades into the distance.

Then the authorities return and a new colony tries to establish itself on “Ofelia’s” planet.  The challenges this brings are surprising, especially when the new immigrants discover that there is indigenous life.  It is worth noting that Elizabeth Moon is ex-military.  Many of her books depend on the hierarchy of authority.  This one shifts that point of view considerably as those in authority simply function by rote rather than taking responsibility for their actions.

The contrast and interplay of cultural viewpoints is an easy theme when two cultures collide.  Here we have even more points of view.  The indigenous culture, the “company” that set up the colonization, the “military” that supports and protects interplanetary colonization, the culture of the colony where Ofelia spent her life, and her own personal instincts all vie for their interpretation of events.

At its heart this is a woman’s story, a grandmother’s story.  It is a reminder that even in age there is value.  Again, Elizabeth Moon does not disappoint.

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Posted by on October 5, 2014 in Science Fiction


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The Daylight War

The Daylight WarUnknown

by: Peter V. Brett

Del Ray Books New York, NY  2013


I reviewed the first book of the Demon Series  The Warded Man.  The second I found typical of a mid-trilogy novel.  It was important, kept the story moving, gave deeper insight into the characters but didn’t provide me with a new theme.  There was, however a dramatic ending continuing the sense that these novels would stand alone.

My biggest disappointment with this third book is that it’s not the end.   Not only is this not the trilogy I’d signed up for, the ending of this book is a cliff hanger.  Literally, there’s a cliff and the reader is left hanging at the edge of it, with night coming on and the Demons rising.

Having said that I understand the need for this expansion.  This third book is largely set in the desert culture.  This is not something most Americans have a lot of experience with.  To appreciate these people and understand their motivations, rather than assuming them the villains of the tale takes a certain amount of time and patience.  This is not the culture I know, but it is a full and rich one.  Successful in its own right, even though I may object to many of its practices.

This is also the book where the two cultures come into conflict.  The desert people are on the move, expanding against the demon invasions.  The farm people, where our main characters originate, can’t hold off against the armies.  The ruling class, which we visited in the second book, doesn’t really get involved until they feel directly threatened.  It’s interesting to note that the threat they feel most strongly is from the warded man not from the leader of the desert tribes.

Only one man can unite the people against the demons, the Deliverer.  Thus is the prophecy interpreted, in both cultures.  Arlen, the warded man, fights against this notion.  He advocates for the people rising to deliver themselves.  Ahmann, Lord of the Desert tribes, may question his worthiness but recognizes the omens pointing to him.

Arlen and Ahmann are zahven.  They are brothers, counterparts, rivals, nemeses.  They are certainly reflections of each other and it seems that either has the potential to become the Deliverer.  As we learn in the story both have their strengths and their character faults.  They have approached the problem of the demons from different vantage points and found differing tactics.

Now I have to wait for an indeterminate amount of time before I can read the end of the story.  How do the people defeat the demons and who will become the Deliverer?

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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Fantasy, Science Fiction


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White Horse

I posted this review accidentally on my other blog. I reposted here because I want it to count towards that 50 review total!

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Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Science Fiction




by John Scalzi

Tor Books New York, NY 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-1699-8

John Scalzi is a noted science fiction writer.  I have read and enjoyed many of his books and that’s why I picked up this one.  Redshirts is pure fan-fiction at it’s finest.  Unlike most fan fiction this does not take existing characters and expand on their histories.  Nor does it take an existing story and turn it on its head.  This is  fan fiction about the phenomenon that the guys in the red shirts are the one’s fated to die.

The story is set on a spaceship, the the crown jewel of the star fleet.  A ship designed for exploration.  A group of new transfers meet waiting for the shuttle to take them to their posts.  Ensign Andrew Dahl has our viewpoint into the story.  As he is escorted to his posting he’s pointedly asked about his willingness to participate in away missions.  He also observes some odd behaviors and weird science going on in the xenobiology lab.

There is a mysterious character, Jenkins whose name is whispered among the crew.  He’s “on an independent assignment”.  Apparently that means that he’s warning the rest of the xeno team when any of the bridge crew come looking for volunteers for an away mission.  A bell rings on one of the crew’s computer screens and they all “disappear” .

Dahl is a curious sort.  He actually runs into Jenkins on his way to deliver a message to the bridge.  He’s warned “not to let the narrative take hold of him.”  Eventually Dahl tracks Jenkins down to confront him about what on earth appears to be going on.  He’s told there is a higher death toll on the Flagship Intrepid than on any other ship – including the battle cruisers – in the system.  In fact, the only ship with a similar fatality pattern is a ship Dahl doesn’t recognize.  The starship Enterprise.

The story was a romp.  Although certainly not great literature, it did explore the fourth wall phenomenon.  I found it a refreshing summer read.  It’s certainly some of the best fan fiction I’ve ever read.

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Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Science Fiction


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The Long War

The Long WarUnknown

by: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Harper/Collins New York, NY  2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-206777-7

I Have been a fan of Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld novels for a long time.  That’s how I happened upon this one, looking for a “new release”.  When I got it I realized that there was a previous novel, The Long Earth.  I hoped that, like the Discworld novels, this book wasn’t dependent on the earlier one and dug in.

It wasn’t what I expected.  This is clearly meant to be a series, and the timeline between books is sequential and the characters repeat.  But, I was entirely engaged in the world as it was presented in this novel alone.  There is a lot going on, and I’m sure it would be easier with the first book under my belt.  However, I must admit that this book stands on its own. (But darn it now I’m going to have to go back and read the first one anyway.)

The Discworld is written as a fanciful tongue in cheek commentary.  The books comment on our dearly held institutions like the Post Office (Going Postal), religions (Small Gods), and hot button issues (Equal Rites).  Discworld doesn’t even take itself seriously (The Wee Free Men).  The Long War is more classically science fiction.  It still has social commentary themes (environmentalism and racism) as is common in the genre.  It isn’t lacking internal humor, but it is not the comedy many Pratchett fans expect.

Apparently (and I’m sure this is the context of the first novel) an event occurred that allowed a significant portion of the planet’s population access to alternative Earths.  Natural “steppers” could simply walk across that invisible boundary into the next Earth over, and then the next and so on.  Additionally technology was developed to allow people who were not natural steppers access to these worlds as well.  Even with the tech, there are some people who simply can not make the step.

At the start of this book, the “wild west” of the multiple Earths is being settled.  There is enough time and distance from Datum Earth that those communities are no longer feeling “represented” by the Datum Earth government.  Additionally, the party in power has no tolerance for the other hominoid species found in the Long Earth.  It has a strong sense of colonialism, but a great fear of what those colonists represent.  Datum America has confiscated all assets the colonists left behind and instituted a taxation program that is burdensome to the frontier lifestyle.

The racism (yes, those other hominoid species are really different races) is not limited to Datum Earth.  A gross injustice, spread virally across the Long Earth equivalent of the internet, brings things to a head.  The race involved, the Trolls, is invaluable to the settlers – at least those willing to work with them.  The Trolls seem fascinated by human culture.  They are better suited physically for heavy labor and have inherent knowledge of how to survive in the Long Earth.  The incident is severe enough that the Trolls begin to disappear en masse from the Long Earth.

The war is the war of independence that pits the colonies and their interests against the interests of the central controlling government.   The story is specifically about the United States, but references are made to other nations and their experiences with the Long Earth.  The implication is that eventually there will be some sort of shifting on a global scale.

That shifting may come on the heels of an environmental disaster.  There are signs on Datum Earth and the “low Earths” within a few steps that the Yellowstone caldera has become unstable.  The suspicion is that global climate change may be responsible for this shift.  No one is entirely sure what it means, or what to do about it but eventually the government recommends an evacuation.  In this world evacuation can mean to another Earth as well as to other areas of Datum.  An interesting dilemma for those who can not, or will not step across.

I really enjoyed the multi-verse premise.  I was familiar with the potential for a Yellowstone “super volcano” going in, so the environmental sidebar was easy to follow.  I do think that with this kind of expanded universe it’s not long before a series becomes dependent on the reader having familiarity with previous books.  Pratchett and Baxter haven’t hit that point yet, and maybe they won’t.  Still, since I’ll probably continue to follow this world, I have every intention of going back and getting “caught up.”

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Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Science Fiction


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The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke LamoraUnknown

by: Scott Lynch


This is an incredibly finely crafted first novel.  It is a rambling tale of the layers of power and authority in a fantasy city-state.  It is a tale of a brotherhood of thieves and con-artists.  It is a morality piece, if morality is akin to honor among thieves.  It is a smart romp through the city and sub-cultures of Camorr.

How do I explain this complicated convoluted story?  The characters would welcome Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser into their fold.  The interweaving plot makes Leverage look simple.  The banter between characters and the general camaraderie is vaguely reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven (either version).  That’s a literary, television and movie reference and still doesn’t begin to comprise the flavor of the work.

It is a compelling story.  The intrigue between factions and around the con games is finely tuned.  The narrative shifts back and forth in time.  This can seem a bit confusing, but it always serves the story.  The dramatic tension is maintained by giving us just enough background to follow the line of the con.  Alternatively we see the con played out and then are given the backstory so we can understand what just happened is not as it appeared.

The story kept me guessing all the way through, and mostly I guessed wrong.  The level of plotting, distraction and illusion is delightful.  The “magical” elements are well integrated.  The language whispers familiarly, but I can’t be placed as being derived consistently from Spanish or Italian or something else all together.

This promises to be a series, but not necessarily a sequential one.  Certainly this book stands alone.  Perhaps it is only the desire to go on another romp with these characters that has the series notion running through my brain.  There is surely more trouble to be had, more scraps to be gotten into and out of, and at least one character who is a member of the gang, but who we have yet to meet.  I am genuinely looking forward to more.

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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Fantasy, Science Fiction


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The Warded Man

The Warded ManUnknown

by: Peter V. Brett

Ballantine Books New York, NY  2009

ISBN: 978-0-345-50380-0

It seems I’ve gotten myself sucked into yet another series.  Luckily for me this book is not only the first in the series, it also stands on its own.  The sense I had at the end of the book was much like it is at the end of any book.  We know the world and the characters go on even when the tale is complete.  If we really like what we’ve read we sometimes wish for more story, or another book about what our favorite characters do next.  But it’s like having a great meal at a restaurant.  We’re satisfied, but would like to come back.

There are so few series these days that don’t end on a cliff-hanger.  I am so grateful to have found an author who respects his work well enough to give me a complete novel, even as part of a series.  It’s worth exploring the next books for that reason alone.

However, there are plenty of other reasons to appreciate this writing as well.  This is a story in that blending of science fiction and fantasy.  The world here is older than it seems.  Mythology has replaced science, but there are hints of a time where great science was prevalent, or perhaps it was great magic.  The warders use symbols, like runes or Chinese characters, to build nets of magic to keep out the demons that rise from the core each night.

During the time of technology the demons had been defeated and there were hundreds of years of peace and prosperity.  When the demons returned, civilization collapsed into a semi-feudal structure.  The farmers in the small towns on the edges have maintained wards that the city people have lost, and visa versa.  In the city only warders know the symbols, In the country everyone knows them but clearly there are those with a stronger aptitude for constructing them.  In the city placement of the wards is a science of geometry, trigonometry and physics.  In the country you eyeball them in, or maybe use a straight stick to get the lines matched up.

There are three characters whose stories are told.  Arlen, who is a master warder in a small town that would never recognize that.  He is young, and brash, and talented and wants to learn about the times when men would fight the demons.  He feels betrayed by the father he used to admire and runs away, eventually to the city.  He wants to become a Messenger and travel the spaces between the towns looking for hints of the past.

Leesha’s family is at best verbally abusive.  She’s a very bright girl with a strong ethic.  Humiliated by her mother and the man her mother expects her to marry, she runs to the old herbalist for refuge.  The old woman takes her as an apprentice and reveals records and secrets that the wise women have kept since before the demons returned.

Rojer is an orphan survivor of a demon attack.  His father was the inn-keeper who let the wards around the inn deteriorate.  At the time of the attack the inn was housing a Jongleur, a traveling player often found in the company of Messengers.  In spite of himself, the Jongleur takes on the responsibility of the small boy and raises him in the trade.  Rojer was crippled in the attack, losing a few fingers off of one hand to a demon bite.  He doesn’t make a very good juggler, but he has a surprising skill with the violin.

I realized I was looking at a series when I was past the middle of the novel and the three had yet to meet up.  When they finally do it is the demands that each of them makes upon the others, as well as the need each of them has for the others that allows them all to recognize what they have become in the course of the story.

This is the coming of age piece for all three of these characters.  At the end of the novel the demons still rise and the world hasn’t changed.  But the three characters have.  We’re not sure where they are going next, but we know that there will be work for all of them.  They have each come into their own and they live in “interesting times”.

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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen Fiction


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Necessity’s Child

Necessity’s ChildUnknown

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

Baen Books Riverdale, NY  2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-3887-5

I really enjoy the Liaden Universe stories.  These are multi-cultural, political intrigue, space operas.  The world is rich in character, deep in allusion and insightful in language development.  It’s not often that I get this tied up in serial novels.  As much as I hate to wait for the next installment I’m happy to dive back into the Machiavellian system of Liaden politics.

Most of the books in the series stand alone.  There are a number of editions compiled with the stories featuring one character or another.  The generational history of the Korval Clan has been laid out over the many years that Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have been writing together.

This book does have its own story.  But in the realm of the world of Liaden Necessity’s Child is not the best introduction.   The multitude of characters and references were overwhelming even to me at the start of the novel.  There is certainly a lot of “catching up” that isn’t done even as the scope of the clan is demonstrated.

The story is an interlude, an introduction to the next generation of Korval.  There are plot elements that hinge on at least some familiarity with the reason for Plan B and its subsequent fall out.  There are scenes that serve to allude to what those familiar with Korval will see as a brilliant mind for navigational calculation in young Syl Vor.  Melanti, a critical concept to the culture, is loosely demonstrated and never explained.  Even the impact of the conditioning Rys has suffered as an Agent of Change is largely dependent on having seen Val Con yos’Phelium go through it in an earlier novel.

In particular is a scene where Syl Vor’s math tutor pushes him to solving a problem and then demands a proof. His mother fires the tutor and offers to take on his instruction herself until a replacement can be found.  She says, “And I will look forward to learning from you, my son.”  The suspicion is that Syl Vor’s answers were confounding the tutor and she was pushing him to find the error where her own comprehension failed.  In review Syl Vor’s mother recognizes brilliance and sees that she too has something to learn from Syl Vor.  But none of that is clear save that I have read so much of the work in the series.

There are many questions left about the underworld (that’s literal) culture being introduced in this novel.  The relationship that they have with the Liaden is hinted at, but not clarified in any way.  The way that the Bedel hold to their clan is reminiscent of both the Romany and the Liaden.  Where the Korval line’s psychic strength comes from their Irish roots (and their relationship to the tree, another thing shown but not to any furthering of the story) the Bedel may have their roots in the Baltics or even in Asia Minor.

As an introduction to a character who promises to expand the Koval empire, this book is a gem.  As an introduction to the world of the Liaden Universe it is a total flop.  If you are intrigued I highly recommend looking at some of the older material or one of the compilations.

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Posted by on June 27, 2013 in Science Fiction


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Ender’s Game

Ender’s GameUnknown

Orson Scott Card

Tom Doherty Associates, LLC  NY, NY  1977,1985,1991


Orson Scott Card has been in the news recently due to his strong anti-gay bias.  I read someone making the suggestion that in the seminal work Ender’s Game, the author was not to be associated with the compassionate Ender but instead with the psychopathic brother Peter.  It was enough to entice me to read (reread, but it’s been SOOOOOO long) the book, and form my own opinion.

Ender’s Game is classically science based science fiction.  The primary science being explored seems to be the science of psychology and warfare.  Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s the idea of children being taught warfare from video games was a stretch.  There was Pong (1972), and then Donkey Kong (released 1981) neither of which looked anything like Halo which begins to resemble the games Ender is being trained on.

The shocking part of the story, even now, is that these are exceptionally bright children.  Ender (and his siblings) are studied for recruitment until they are 6 years old.  If they pass, they are taken away by the I.F. (International Fleet).  They don’t see their families again for 10 years, when they are 16.  The I.F. controls all contact and in Ender’s case isolates him allowing no communication to or from his family.

Ender is being recruited for fleet commander in an interstellar war against an alien species that attempted an invasion (twice) before he was born.  The general public is led to believe this training program is to prevent a third wave.  The truth is that the human commanders have chosen to take the fight to the aliens.  They need a commander in place when the troops are scheduled to arrive.  They’ve been looking for the right person for 20 years.  If Ender doesn’t fit the bill there is no more time to look.

Peter, the oldest brother, was also screened for this service.  He was rejected because of his pathology towards violence.  Peter, it was thought, had no capacity for empathy.  He enjoyed torturing the weak and everything he did was in his own self interest.  Valentine, the older sister, was also screened.  She was determined to be too compassionate.  She was the defender of the weak, and specifically the defender of her younger brother Ender against the vicious Peter.

Ender is stubborn enough to be not like Peter that he feels remorse when he is pushed to the point of fighting.  Still, when pushed, Ender is capable of extreme force.  He only wants to fight once.  He also has the vision of Valentine that allows him to understand interpersonal dynamics in a way that makes him a very effective commander.

The aliens, strange as they may be, are not quite as alien as originally thought.  They share our DNA.  They may have originated on Earth.  They have a hive mind and that instantaneous telepathy is their advantage and their week spot.  It doesn’t occur to the aliens that there is any need for communication.  Likewise the human generals don’t see any communication among the aliens and assume communication is impossible.

Ender eventually happens upon a third alternative and that leads to the subsequent book Speaker for the Dead.

In terms of Orson Scott Card I suspect that Valentine says it best.  “Two faces of the same coin.  And I am the metal in between.”  All three characters have their vision, their blind spots, and their great flaws.  They all make an impact on humanity and human culture.  They all fight against their natures and it is that struggle that brings them to greatness.  Don’t we all.

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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Science Fiction


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