4.0 out of 5 stars Gladiator, Moses, Skywalker, Rhii, July 25, 2012
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This review is from: The Worker Prince (Kindle Edition)
It’s not that often that a science fiction story bordering on space opera comes along that everyone will enjoy reading. That’s what Schmidt accomplishes with the Worker Prince. Revolving around a recent graduate prince who leaves home for his first assignment only to discover his slave-class origins, the story mirrors that of the Biblical Moses in many aspects.
While the main protagonist, Davi Rhii, does not spend 40 years in the dessert, he does wrestle with identity issues and the status quo of an empire built on the back of slave labor. The conflict that ensues is the classic story of one against the many. The result is watching an individual discover his unique place, and this is something most of us long for in our own lives.
Schmidt finds a nice balance between moralizing and adventure in his tale that I thought suited anyone between the ages of 13 and dead.
That being said, it didn’t hit the sweet spot for me. I prefer a little more grime and grit in my space opera. Rhii is a champion and hero more along the lines of Luke Skywalker (without all the whining) and less like Han Solo. But the prose is elegant and well-paced.
If you enjoy young adult literature, coming of age tales, and/or science fiction adventure then you’ll enjoy The Worker Prince. Read it! Review it! Share it!
Imagine, if you will, the dark streets of Boston. Trouble is afoot, a revolution against the wealthy and the authorities. Equality and justice are demanded by protesting crowds, some of which get out of hand at times, leading to smoky, dark nights. Add to that ghosts and dark magic at hand, a secret sorcerer working his will in the midst of the chaos. Sounds like a pretty good urban fantasy, right?
Now imagine all this is occurring during the Stamp Act uprising in the 18th Century. Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, the original Tea Party, the Colonists stirring against the British Crown.
D.B. Jackson’s debut alternate history novel is the tale of a thieftaker, one who hunts down stolen property for a fee and returns it to its rightful owners. What separates him from his competition, however, is Ethan’s gift for conjuring. He was born with the gift, inherited from his mother, and now Ethan Kaille is called upon to investigate the theft of a brooch off the neck of a murdered daughter of one of Boston’s wealthy merchants. Murders are not the sorts of crimes men like Ethan typically get involved with, but the girl’s cause of death is undetermined and some believe conjuring was involved, and so Ethan promises to find the stolen brooch and return it, revealing what he also discovers about the murderer in the process.
But once he gets involved, finding himself haunted by ghosts and voices of not just the dead daughter but others who’ve died in similar fashion, attacked by his main rival, Sephira Pryce, a thieftaker who rules the city in ways less honorable than Ethan and many of her trade, and hunted by the authorities. Drawn into an unfolding mystery by his compulsion to understand and his desire to set things right, Ethan uncovers a dark conspiracy that brings him into encounters with the British leadership, upper crust merchants, and even Samuel Adams himself.
Jackson is the nom de plume of a well respected fantasy writer with numerous fantasies under his belt. And his skill at prose, worldbuilding, and character development shine through on every page. Add to this his degree in history and passion for that, and you have a book that drips with authenticity, despite the fantastical elements wove into the historical narrative. Colonial Boston really comes alive here, and the story draws you in quickly, compelling you to read onward with every page.
Alternate history is as tricky as working in a contemporary setting because so much documentation and knowledge exists that one has to study hard and tread carefully in order to use history both responsibly, meaningfully and fairly in weaving a fictional tale around and within it, while still crafting elements which would appeal to the genre fans for whom the book will be primarily targeted. But my opinion is that any fan of history, particularly Revolutionary War America, would love Thieftaker. And I think it’s a not to be missed start of a new not to be missed series.
Jackson is scheduled to follow next year with Thieve’s Quarry and everything from the beautiful cover art to the prose, dialogue and settings works together to bring this charming, authentic, well paced tale to life. It’s unique and yet familiar. And it’s one of my favorite reads of 2012 so far. Highly recommended!
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.
Cassa Fire, Space Opera, Dancing Lemur Press, 2012. Tpb/ebook $15.95/$4.99
An enjoyable read with well drawn leads that takes a while to suck you in but ultimately rises above its faults to provide a compelling and enjoyable read. I have not read book 1 in this series. So let me say some of my quibbles with it may well not be shared by those who have.
The action was well written and Cavanaugh uses some invented SFnal ideas here, including mental powers for two races, one limited to men, the other expanded by the entry of women. The developing relationship between the humans and Tgren as a result of this development makes for interesting drama and asks interesting questions. It also provides good fodder for further storylines.
His worldbuilding is very solid. The starships are well thought out and created well. You can definitely feel an 80s SF influence, Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in particular, although I suppose Star Wars and Star Trek could be found in it as well.
The prose itself is solid. Cavanaugh is quite good at weaving description and dialogue and keeping things moving well. He handles multiple POV characters well and does a good job transitioning between scenes and chapters.
Action scenes are well written and handled and have appropriate pacing and tension, avoiding the silly dialogue which sometimes ensues.
Now for the quibbles:
First, the story didn’t hook me until Chapter 4. In part, I felt there wasn’t much going on at the beginning. The real action didn’t take place until later on. There were a number of passages with routine day to day character routines which I could have done without that slowed down the pace as well. The worldbuilding is solid but I wish the writer had found a way to get us into it with a bit more excitement. The result is a dragging pace until chapter 4 when it picks up more and more as it moves toward the middle and end.
Second, other than Byron and his love interest, I didn’t find the other characters very well drawn. They didn’t seem to have arcs of their own. Perhaps they were from book 1 and developed more fully there, but I think he could have added a bit more development in them to make it more interesting. The uncle of the love interest, however, does change a bit in his attitude, which was a nicely handled touch. I just would have liked to have seen more with other supporting characters for a richer, fuller canvass.
Third, because the story doesn’t have as much action as I expected from the cover (my fault not his but the cover did set expectations somewhat), I’d compare this more to a storyline from Star Trek:TNG or a thoughtful TOS episode than I would to something more action packed like Star Wars or Buck Rogers or even BSG in storyline/plot. I would have liked a bit more action. This last note, admittedly, is personal preference and not the writer’s fault. There’s just rich potential in the ships, characters and world for some really good action. Perhaps book 1 provides more of that. I do intend to read it.
Ultimately, I am giving this four stars because I think despite any flaws it’s well worth your time. Don’t let the pacing keep you from digging in. The SF ideas, cultures, and world are well developed and interesting. I would look forward to more stories. I do hope next round he’ll give us more action. And I hope he’ll develop some of the other characters as well. Regardless, if you like old fashioned space opera, this is a family friendly fun read. Recommended.
For my #SFFWRTCHT interview with this author at Ray Gun Revival: http://www.raygunrevival.com/sffwrtcht-interview-author-alex-j-cavanaugh/
To follow the author’s blog tour, you can find it at: http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com/
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.
Imagine my surprise when I found myself engaged, even captivated by the characters. Kemp’s ability to create immediate connections between characters and readers is admirable. He had me at “hello,” you might say. And like a stalker, he never let me go, but in a good way. Even the antagonist, Darth Malgus is someone you can’t help but feel sympathy for. He’s relatable. He may be evil and dark and hateful, but he’s human, just like the reader. And Kemp brings that out so well you almost root for him at times against the protagonists. That’s great writing.
Like most Star Wars tie-ins the prose is kept simple, a few challenging words here and there, but not many. After all, these books are intended to be accessible for fans of all ages. And that requires talent, too. When the competition are sometimes books with extra effort at complex prose, to have written a book written simply but well which engages adults as well as children is a real accomplishment. One to be proud of.
I can’t wait to chat with Paul and find out more about his writing journey, to soak up the lessons he has to teach us about writing, and to call him my friend. He tells me his assignment was to do a story with Darth Malgus, a character from the forthcoming online multi-player game “The Old Republic.” He wrote a Malgus story with spades.
The book revolves around three central characters, the dark Sith Malgus, a rogue Jedi Aryn, and a pilot Zeerid. Malgus wants to conquer the universe for the Sith and rid them forever of the Jedi menace. Aryn wants revenge for the death of her mentor/father-figure at Malgus’ hands. Zeerid, an old friend of Aryn’s, is just trying to pay off a debt and provide artificial legs for his young daughter. Each of them gets sucked in by circumstance to a web of deception–both internal and external to themselves–and struggles to accomplish their goal. All of them wind up taking paths far different than they’d imagined in doing so. And all of them learn lessons that forever change them in the process.
Filled with action and moving at a steady clip, “Deceived” even includes a cute astromech droid character, who may remind us of ancestors to come. It has romance, betrayal, political intrigue, and rivalry. It’s a well told tale that could be set in any universe but works exceedingly well in the confines of the familiar Star Wars one. Truly these are characters worth discovering and enjoying. I’d like to see more of each of them.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to stare a lion in the face on the serenghetti or swim with sharks in the ocean? Author Alan Dean Foster answers those questions and more in the riveting “Predators I Have Known,” coming February 22nd from Open Road Media.
Foster, a well known and respected author of science fiction and fantasy, New York Times bestselling author of 110 books, has the same lust for adventure he satisfies in readers with his many books and he takes us with him on many adventures around the world as he satiates it with daring encounters many of us might never risk. From the Amazon River in South America to the plains of Africa to the Arizona desert, Foster’s tales are told with vivid description, honest self-deprecation, and a great sense of humor using powerful prose. He captures his emotions and thoughts as he faces uncertain dangers yet feels compelled to stand his ground and not run. The predators are everything from giant ants to giant otters, usual suspects like snakes and spiders to big cats and elephants and other surprises. Some are well known, others less so. All are intriguing.
For readers without the budget, time or guts to travel the world, Foster gives you a bird’s eye view of Australia, the Amazon jungle, the Pantanal, African desert and more. Having visited some of the places he does myself, I can attest to the accuracy of his descriptions and realism of his emotions. I only wish I could describe them so well. Sure to invoke the imagination, the book will make you laugh with delight, squirm with discomfort, and wait with baited breath to see if he survives. It’s a wonderful change of pace from a beloved writer and one I highly recommend. I’m sure I will read it again and again, especially when my own reality prevents satisfying my own lust for adventure.
The only weakness for me was that I wanted more, and I especially wish there were some of Foster’s pictures of the various encounters. His prose is vivid enough one can live without them, but having them would have just made the book all the more powerful.
Available as an ebook, “Predators I Have Known” can be ordered for $26.99 at http://www.openroadmedia.com/books/predators-i-have-known.aspx#bookDetail with discounts available through many online booksellers.
First, a couple of disclaimers might be appropriate: I like Mary Robinette Kowal. She’s a nice person, the kind who is easy to converse with and who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Vice President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, she penned one of my favorite short stories of the past few years, “Clockwork Chickadee,” a story which delights me each time I read it and is even more delightful hearing her read it out loud. She’s very giving of her time to help up and coming writers from teaching them how to do readings to answering basic questions. And she spends a lot of time with puppets. Who can help but like someone who spends her time entertaining and delighting children?
Two sons, one an embarrassment, the other prophesied to rule the world. Two armies, facing each other for nine years of war. A tortured princess. A bodyguard torn between duty and love. Moses Siregar III’s “The Black God’s War” novella has all the right ingredients and his prose lives up to the challenge–an exciting new epic fantasy is soon to arrive.
It’s taken me far too long to read this tale, and I am reading an older draft, but I’m so glad I waited until I had the focus to properly appreciate it. It’s been a while since a novella so captured me that I read it almost straight through–70 pages in the first sitting. But Siregar’s novella, 15 chapters culled from 85 of his upcoming novel, just has that effect on you. His characters are as passionate as his descriptive prose. The pacing is perfect. There are a few spots where editing might tighten things up, but as I said, this is an older draft and I know he’s been polishing a lot since then.
“The Black God’s War” is the tale of two countries at war on a distant planet. The sons of their two leaders each take their role in battle. One, Caio, is the legendary Haissem, born to rule the world. The religious ceremony handing him his father’s power takes place and the army awaits his arrival and their imminent victory. The other, Rao, hardly knows his father and is mocked by his men. Meanwhile, Caio’s sister Lucia is leading the army as they await him. Each side calls on their gods and each expects to win.
The novella has elements of mythology reflective of Siregar’s years spent studying religions and philosophies. It has a Greek or Roman feel to it at times, yet it remains clearly in the epic fantasy mold, despite being set on a distant planet.
Siregar handles the battle scenes well, using dialogue richly to both build his characters and his world. And the novella introduces many of his major characters well, wetting the reader’s appetite and leaving him wanting more.
I’m anxious to know the rest of the story and you will be, too. This is a novella epic fantasy fans don’t want to miss. Avaialble as an ebook right now through Kindle and other sites. The novel should follow in Spring 2011. Siregar is an exciting new talent to look forward to.
For what it’s worth…
A great read and one I wish I’d had time to read straight through without so many interruptions. It captured me from the get go and kept me entertained throughout.
The first in a new sword and sorcery series, “Tome Of The Undergates” is about a group of adventurers, led by a human named Lenk, who get hired to retrieve a powerful book stolen by demons which holds the power to threaten the planet. A motley crew indeed, our adventurers include four humans, a shict, and a dragon man, none of whom are necessarily admirable but all of whom are deeply flawed.
Sykes basically takes two large set pieces — an opening battle and a closing battle, and connects the dots with a few scenes. The book is told from the POVs of his band of adventurers, whom we only come to know a little over the course of the book. Instead, the focus is on action and grit, both of which Sykes gives us in abundance. He’s clearly a master of descriptive verbage, and some of that verbage might not work for those easily offended. But it does serve to make his battle scenes more realistic than most and it also makes them more powerful and effective at drawing you into the world he’s creating.
His world building is strong but he can certainly do a lot more with it and the same can be said for the characters. I would have liked to see the character arcs developed a bit more. We get their backstories in bits and pieces, some not even given until the very end. And while these bits and pieces of world building and characterization are strong, they amount altogether to very little parts of the whole. We still have a lot to learn, but it’s a small quibble because Sykes is in this for the long haul. He’s already written a sequel, “Black Halo,” which comes out in Spring 2011, and I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more about these heroes and their world in the further adventures to follow.
A strong and entertaining story, Sykes invests his characters with distinct personalities and makes good use of humor. Despite their flaws, we like them, and we root for them, and it’s a fun ride to join their journey. If you like adventure fantasy, you’ll love this. Recommended. I look forward to more to come from Sykes in the future.
Well written and powerful, it’s easy to see why Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl” has been so acclaimed and awarded. The story of people in the Thai Kingdom, somewhere in the future, the story is told through multiple points of view – the American factory owner/agent who is using the factory as a cover; the abandoned Japanese windup girl, an android or clone, who is forced to survive by dancing and prostituting herself; the expat Chinese factory manager who works with the agent and betrays him; and two White Shirt members of the Environment Ministry who go around enforcing code, fighting disease, and taking bribes or stealing them (depending on your point of view.) Each has a reason for why they’ve come to the point where all paths intersect, and each has the desire to survive the hard life that exists in the kingdom.
Bacigalupi’s characters are three dimensional and well drawn, but I found it hard to sympathize with all but the windup girl and the female White Shirt. Both of them are victims who seem caught up in circumstances. And while each commits acts which are violent and even criminal against other humans, both have a genuine desire to do the right thing. They are just protecting themselves the only way they know how. The lack of a central “hero” left me a bit empty at the end.
The book is paced very well and the world building is top notch. Bacigalupi has done his research on Thailand and created a wholly real and believable future world. In truth, it doesn’t seem so vastly different from what one might expect to see in a Developing World country today, except for the gene replicating and windups. There are dirigibles here and a few other steampunk tropes, but the time period is not Victorian and neither are the people, so it’s not really steampunk genre. It’s more slipstream, often compared to William Gibson. In many ways, the world here is if anything less developed than our own, relying on megodonts (giant mammoth/elephant type creatures) to power the city through their leg power, travel around mostly on bikes, ricshaws and a few cars. It just doesn’t seem as far future as one might anticipate, which only serves to make it all the more powerful.
Bacigalupi wisely sticks to English dialogue, subtly hinting what language his characters are speaking when necessary. He mixes in ethnic Japanese, Chinese and Thai phrases from time to time to add to the authenticity, and even uses some key native words throughout to lend to the feeling of being inside the mind of peoples who think in such terms.
Bacigalupi is a talented writer from whom I look forward to reading much more in the future. His future is a bleak one, which may have contributed to my disappointment with the lack of a pure hero. But his writing craft is solid and the book thoroughly engaging. Recommended.
When I discovered Ken Scholes’ Lamentation, it was on a TOR ad inside the front cover of an issue of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy last fall. Being a man of faith, the title immediately caught my eye. But it was when I saw Orson Scott Card’s recommendation that I knew I had to read it. Card wrote: “This is the golden age of fantasy, with a dozen masters doing their best work. Then along comes Ken Scholes, with his amazing clarity, power, and invention, and shows us all how it’s done.” That was enough for me. I love Card’s books, loved Scholes’ title, so I ordered the book.
What a delight awaited me. I devoured Lamentation in just over a week, reading it as fast as my eyes and mind could handle. Scholes’ books are rich, full of emotion, detail, mystery, and questions which often await answers even when the book is done. It’s a lot to process, so sometimes it may take the reader’s mind a while to wrap around it and move along. Sometimes this can make the pace feel slow or the page count seem slight, but as you persevere, you’ll find yourself more and more compelled, reading faster and faster until a lightning burst at the end.
After Lamentation, I quickly ordered Canticle and read it almost as quickly. The second in a series of five books which comprise The Psalms Of Isaak, Canticle expanded on both the characters and themes of Lamentation, taking the plot and suspense to new heights.
The gist of the story is that of survivors of a holocaust, the destruction of a city. Their society already survived a cataclysm in what is now the Charred Wastes on the edge of their current home, the Named Lands, but now they face yet another in their midst.
With the destruction of the city, a library containing the treasure of all their known knowledge was destroyed. So now, having discovered metal men who helped store the libraries knowledge and carry it in their memories, the king of a northern territory known as the Ninefold Forests is assembling a new library as the data in the metal men’s memories is transcribed bit by bit into new books.
In the meanwhile, the ancient political machinations of others have set in motion new conflicts–conflicts between the surviving territories and their leaders, conflicts in philosophy, and conflicts in how to solve the issues they all now face.
Antiphon, which releases from TOR on September 14th, continues the saga of those people. Unlike many authors, Scholes doesn’t overwhelm us with details of his world. He gives us just enough to paint a picture, then lets the rest unfold naturally through dialogue and the characters’ thoughts. Full of action, multiple storylines which intersect and separate again, and full of surprising new twists and turns with every chapter, each of these books builds on the others, taking us deeper and deeper into understanding, while at the same time leading us deeper and deeper toward a sense of impending doom and major confrontation.
This is epic fantasy at its finest and truly a must read for every fantasy fan. From the drama of relationships and romances to the clash of religious views and philosophies, Scholes has built a complex, diverse world populated with real people who have something to teach as well as learn.
If you haven’t read these books, you’re missing out, and I highly recommend adding them to your reading list. With each release, I wait with more and more anticipation for the next book. Why can’t Ken Scholes just write faster? I ask myself, and you will too once you’ve discovered the amazing story and world that is The Palms of Isaak.
Okay, yes, I know what I said. I am not neglecting Antiphon. I started it today. But my review of Kirinyaga sparked another enjoyable discussion with the author who then proceeded to provide me with manuscripts of all the other Africa books and stories I had yet to review, and this one was short and kept calling to me. I just had to read it.
An enjoyable entry in Resnick’s Africa series, this book is billed as a follow up to his award winning Kirinyaga, and indeed, the utopia built by fellow Kenyans uses the “Kirinyaga” failure as inspiration to get it right, and they do.
Led by historian David ole Saitoti, who becomes like a shaman for the Council and people, the Masaai establish their own Utopia, which, instead of focusing strictly on one lifestyle, focuses on a variety of settings enjoyed by the Masaai. These creates a sense of freedom and adaptability which serves them well, for, like the other utopia experiments, unexpected circumstances and inquiries lead to pushing the Council for change. How they handle that and where it leads is the heart of this story.
Written as a special release novella for Subterranean Press, it may be hard to find this book, but I tracked it down on Amazon with little trouble. Regardless, it’s worth the effort for those who enjoyed Mike Resnick’s previous Africa works, and it provides a unique look at another idea of utopia different from the others, yet, one which raises as many questions and leaves us to determine the answers.
The other uniqueness is that the narrator is not an instigator or protector of the utopia, but instead, a neutral advisor. He shows no particular inclination toward one particular approach over another, but merely seeks to advice the decision makers and let them proceed as they so determine. This is no Koriba, and, that makes his perspective all the more interesting for the reader.
Highly enjoyable and recommended. A bit edgier than his other books language-wise, probably because of its limited audience, but that shouldn’t keep most adults away.
A worthy addition to Mike Resnick’s Africa collection and to yours.
Yes, yet another Resnick review from me. Before I get to the actual review, let me answer the inevitable resounding “Whys?” echoing from my many readers (2, 3? I’ve lost count, time for another census). I started reading Resnick for two reasons: 1) because after hearing he was a huge Africa fan who used his African experiences in his stories, I looked him up, noted our mutual interest in Africa and crosscultural writing, and I got an email a few days later with a buttload (yes, that is an actual unit of measurement) of attachments of his Africa short stories, all of which were featured in major publications and all of which were either nominated for or had won awards. 2) because he is the most published and awarded SF writer ever. 3) because once I read one of his books, I got hooked. His prose style is similar to mine (yeah, right, as if mine were this good), and I love the way he writes powerful characters and situations and lets the questions fly out of what develops. Also, whether or not they are answered is up to the reader.
So, that’s why more Resnick, and I am not done yet, but will be taking at least a one book pause to read my buddy Ken Scholes’ “Antiphon,” a) because I have a copy a month ahead of its actual publication date; b) because I promised to not only review it but participate in discussions with a readers’ group; and c) because I have been begging him for an early copy for a year since finishing the second in the series because the series is so freaking awesome, it’s painful to have to wait. In fact, sidebar, if he could have just had the decency to put those twins off until he finished the series, he could have taken a nice break from writing without so cruelly abandoning his fans.
Okay, enough Resnick-Scholes ranting. Here’s the review:
Kirinyaga is the most award-winning science fiction novel ever. Some call it a collection of stories, because Resnick wrote the chapters as short stories, sold them, won awards on them, and then assembled the book, but since together they create a coherent whole, I disagree with that assessment. This is a novel, and no one story would truly be complete without the others.
Kirinyaga tells the story of Koriba, a well intentioned Kikuyu man from Kenya who sets about to lead his people to set up their own traditional Utopia, a planet named Kirinyaga after the holy mountain of their god, Ngai, on Kenya. The goal of the settlers is to live the way their ancient ancestors lived with no European influence or niceties. They will hunt and farm for their food, live off the land in traditional bomas (huts) and rule their society with the traditional councils of Elders advised by the mundumugu, Koriba.
The story is really one of the best of intentions gone awry. Koriba’s desire is to preserve the sanctity of his people’s ways, but as time goes on and the original settlers die or age, the new minds begin asking questions not easily answered. Things become even worse as his chosen successor is exposed to ideas through Koriba’s own computer and begins questions Koriba’s ideas and the ways of his people publicly, which leads others to do the same.
Watching his utopia unravel along with his influence, Koriba faces tough decisions and challenges about the future.
That’s all I’ll say to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t actually discovered this yet, but I will make some comments on Resnick’s Africa stuff in general.
Of the African works by him I’ve read, this is the most blatant in adhering and examining their cultural traditions. In books like Inferno, Paradise, and Purgatory, Resnick used African history and a mix of traditions like metaphors to tell science fiction stories examining the larger human condition and particularly Westerner’s attitudes and approaches to those of other cultures or worlds. In other stories and books, he has examined this from different angles, but in this case, he delves into African’s own attitudes about their own worlds and traditions. The same questions and ideas which led to the real erosion of traditional African cultures arise again through these stories and lead the reader to examine why the erosion occurs in every culture and ask whether it’s good or bad. The answers are never black and white, nor are they simple, but they are worth asking.
Resnick’s prose is simple enough for even a ten-year-old to grasp, but the questions and ideas he posits with it are deeply rich and complex and may require several readings even for adults to unravel and fully fathom. I know I have been reading and rereading and plan to do so again, and if you want scifi that challenges your world view, asks questions, and teaches you while still entertaining, I highly recommend this stuff, because it will reward you greatly for the effort.
For what its worth…
What I love about Mike Resnick, among other things, is his non-pretentious prose style. He doesn’t write like he has a dictionary out to look up the fanciest words for saying everything in an attempt to impress you. Instead, he just finds the right words to tell the story. So you don’t need to read his books with a dictionary next to you either, and his books work for readers of all ages.
This book, one of several inspired by his love of and travels through Africa, is the story of Duncan Rojas and Bukoba Mandanka and the tusks of the Kilimanjaro Elephant, the largest to ever exist.
Rojas, a researcher for Braxton’s Records of Big Game, is hired by Mandaka, the last living Masaai, to find the tusks which he believes are the secret to his people’s lost power. While he won’t explain why he needs them, he is paying handsomely, and Rojas cannot resist a good mystery.
As he researches the tusks with the help of his trusty computer, Rojas learns the stories of various people and aliens who have possessed them over time. The tusks have quite a colorful history, as does the elephant himself, and the stories are fascinating and rich with characters, world building, history and solid plotting.
The chapters run long, something I myself am guilty of, but that’s because each chapter contains a historical story and a section about Rojas’ research in the present as he learns the history.
In the end, the story raises powerful questions about tradition, faith, and mythology. As is typical of Resnick, the conclusion leaves us to provide our own answers, and there is certainly a lot to think about which resonates with you long after the book has been closed.
A not to be missed, rich story. Thoroughly enjoyable and compelling. For what it’s worth…
I finally finished the three book series comprised of Paradise, Purgatory and Inferno — Chronicles Of Distant Worlds. Each of the three was a great read, but they just got better as I went along. Purgatory was better than Paradise and Inferno was better than Purgatory.
Inspired by the author’s travels in Africa and his love of the continent and her cultures, each of the books chronicles the Earthen Republic’s interference in alien worlds and the tragic consequences which result. Inferno is modeled after the nightmare of Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda in the 70s and 80s. This time, the Department of Cartography has deliberately left the Republic out and instead tried to bolster and assist the locals in educating their people and improving their planet. The desire is to let the natives shape their own world, only some of the natives take to the Western style more than others and conflict arises.
When the leader the Department of Cartography has supported is defeated by a rival, the planet’s government becomes unfriendly to the Republic, resisting joining the Republic, and seeking aid and trade with worlds outside the Republic’s influence. As the world, Faligor, drifts further from the Department’s hopes, a coup arises, one which the Republic hopes will restore order and integrity to the government. Instead, the General who led the revolution is even more brutal than his predecessor. He begins a campaign of racial cleansing and persecution of the population, creating a military state where his people live in fear.
The General fears only one thing: war with the Republic, but the Republic refuses to interfere. The Department of Cartography had insisted they stay out and not mess it up, so now the leadership was determined to leave Faligor to its own fate. As the former director of the Department of Cartography, who’s retired on Faligor, tries to interfere, he becomes an enemy of the General and finds himself jailed and threatened for it.
Inferno is a powerful story of tragedy. A good, kind people who grow to believe they may deserve the cruel dictators who take over their planet one after another. It is the story of the humans who tried to help them and now watch in horror as their plan backfires and the planet falls apart. It’s an echo of one of the most tragic events in world history and one of the greatest murderers who ever lived.
The story is a page turner and it is deeply moving. It causes the reader to consider his or her own values, morality and expectations for government, to evaluate his or her prejudices toward people who are different, and to question whether those people and their cultures deserve more respect than they’ve been given. It reminds us that despite our best intentions, our own interference in other countries has led to great tragedy and harm, and sometimes our “superior” culture ends up not being as superior as we suppose.
A deeply powerful must read for science fiction fans and any reader interested in other cultures. Written by a master storyteller in simple prose full of great characters and deep emotions. Resnick never preaches. He lets the story’s events speak for themselves. And speak they do, loudly and continually. A book you’ll never forget.
For what it’s worth…
When you pick up a book written in 1958, especially by a 19-year-old writer, you expect it to be out of date and perhaps even a little weak. But I loved this book. It’s short and tight, but masterful as Robert Silverberg always is.
I may be biased. Silverberg, without a doubt, is my favorite speculative fiction author (Orson Scott Card is second). But this story resonated with me and it holds up even sixty years after it was written.
The story of 18-year-old Alan Donnell, a spacer who serves on his dad’s ship, Starman’s Quest introduces us to a future Earth very different from our own. When the ship returns to Earth after a journey which passed like months for its crew but equalled nine years on Earth, Alan leaves to search for his missing twin brother Steve. Anxious for adventure, Steve had jumped ship the last time they ported on Earth, and Alan is anxious to see his now 26-year-old brother, forever altered by the differences of time on Earth vs. time in space.
It is Alan’s first time in an Earther city, and he finds it fascinating. When his spacer outfit and cultural ignorance bring unwanted attention from locals and the Police, he only manages to escape with the help of a gambler named Max. Max seems to be eying his as a protegé, and ends up tutoring Alan in the culture and resources needed to find Steve.
After Max and Alan return Steve to their father’s ship, Alan decides it’s his turn for adventure. Alan has long dreamed of building a faster than light drive based on the drawings of long lost (and ridiculed) scientist and hopes to one day track down his lost diaries and continue his work.
Silverberg’s work is no doubt aided by his own proximity in age to his main character. Alan’s point of view as a teen discovering Earth and its culture for the first time comes off as very authentic, and we experience everything along with him. For science fiction, this is a great way to introduce the futuristic elements unfamiliar to us, and it’s amazing how many of those resonate even today as future possibilities well within our imagination.
Silverberg comments in a brief note at the beginning that the book is not his best work but will be of interest to those curious about his early career. I think the writing style his fans have experienced in his later works is clearly recognizable here and readers, fans or not, will enjoy the book. It’s size makes it a fast read, so it’s a good introduction to Silverberg for any who haven’t discovered him before.
I highly recommend Starman’s Quest and know you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Rabbit: Chasing Beth Rider is the story of the famous novelist Beth Rider, author of vampire books and a Christian, who finds herself being pursued by the Rakum, an ancient order of vampires. Labelled a “Rabbit,” a marked target, by an Elder, she is hunted by all Rakum to be tortured again and again because her books have started causing Rakum to leave the fold in search of a better way.
When some of the vampires try and protect her, she finds herself surrounded by conflict as the power struggle rages around her. As the conflict grows, Beth finds her faith a pillar of strength in the midst of it and soon her strength inspires those around her. They began asking questions and seeking answers they’d never thought about before. The “virus” sweeping through the Rakum, so feared by Jack Dawn, Beth and Michael’s nemesis, begans spreading all the more, until the final confrontation with the Rakum Fathers and Beth’s God.
I have to admit, when Ellen first described her book, I was skeptical. I had no concept of how Christianity and Vampires could be in the same book. Other than a vampire hunter priest, it just didn’t make sense to me. And I also have to say the book had a slow start. Despite the short chapters and moving between characters, it didn’t really hook me until 40 pages in when the back story of one of the supporting characters just touched me. After that I devoured the book rapidly, page after page.
First novels are tricky, especially then they are self-published, which is becoming more and more common. But Maze avoids most of the pitfalls. There are some missed words, such as “to” for “too” and such, but even novels from the major print houses let those slip through sometimes. For me the novel’s major weaknesses were two holes in character motivations. First, with Michael seeming to flip over Beth because she’s a pretty girl and looks too nice to be an enemy of the Rakum. Given the risks and potential costs for him, I expected a stronger reasoning. The second involved Beth herself, whose faith is so solid and even that she seems to hardly fear the events unfolding around her. In my experience, even strong, devoted Christians would have moments of fear and questioning under such circumstances, but Beth never seems to. Additionally, faced with the possibility of extraterrestrials at one point, she finds them hard to believe while fully accepting the vampires and other craziness consuming her days.
These are small issues however when the book sweeps you away. Maze does an amazing job with pacing, keeping things moving at a lightning pace in a way that catches you up and takes you along for the ride. The plot continues unfolding with various complications that raise the stakes as the book races toward the inevitable confrontation between the Rakum and Beth’s God.
A powerful first novel, I am surprised a mainstream house has yet to snatch this up. It may be because of the present competitive environment, but I have no doubt that as this book keeps growing in popularity, they will take notice. I have the pleasure of proofing/editing the sequel next month, and if it’s this good, the series can only become more popular.
Whether you’re a vampire story fan or reticent as I was, I highly recommend this book from an exciting new talent.
I am behind on my blogging, so apologies to anyone who actually follows this. I just finished two great science fiction books and thought I’d review them here back to back.
The first is the all-time classic “A Canticle For Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller. I’ve heard about this book for years but never read it. The other day I found a copy in the used book store and decided it was time. What a delightful read.
A post-apocalyptic novel written in 1959, “Canticle” is the story of monks who are trying to preserve relics of the past in a rebuilding culture set back to the Dark Ages after a nuclear holocaust. They live in a time where things like “electricity” and “machines that fly” amaze them to think about. A time when such ideas seem like distant fantasy.
But as their culture evolves and we experience it through different generations of monks at the monastery, a number of old forgotten inventions begin to reoccur and bring new challenges and havoc to their lives.
A great examination of faith and belief mixed with interpersonal interactions and history, I found this a compelling read full of rich characters and settings and a fascinating plot.
I can see why it’s so revered and plan to read it again in a few years so I can enjoy it all over again.
The second book I’ll review is Jay Lake’s “Death of A Starship.” It’s a book Jay and I have discussed when talking about faith in fiction and Christian characters appearing in scifi, and I finally managed to bump it up the queue and read it. I’m so glad I did.
I loved this book. A fast read, it’s filled with action and focuses on three well drawn lead characters. Jay Lake went to considerable effort to make them realistic, even consulting priests to make sure his portrayal of Father Menard was as accurate as he could make it.
The story of an investigation into the disappearance of a major battleship, the last of a type decommissioned years before in a quest for peace, a ship so powerful it could blow away half the current fleet by itself, Menard, a ship’s mechanic, and Navy assassins find themselves on colliding trajectories which take them not only toward each other, but the ship and the long suspected aliens who caused it to crash. Menard’s Xenic Bureau of the church has long been seeking proof of their existence, and Menard finds their infiltration is far deeper than he’d ever suspected.
Fast-paced, tightly written, a page turner. I almost couldn’t put it down. I read 92 pages the first day and split the other pages only due to busyness in my schedule.
Highly recommended to anyone who likes scifi and especially solid space opera.
Both highly recommended and enjoyable. For what it’s worth…
Recently read Mike Resnick’s 1993 book Purgatory, the first in a three-book series. What a great read! I couldn’t put it down. As you may know, Resnick is one of the most prolific and successful of Science Fiction writers. His books and stories have appeared everywhere. What you may not know is that Resnick, like myself, has a passion for Africa, and he uses it a lot in his work. We have corresponded and chatted about this, and he sent me several stories, but this book is tops.
Purgatory is the story of Karimon, a distant planet rich in minerals, discovered by a Republic who then try and colonize it and exploit its mineral wealth. They are opposed by local tribal leader Janalopi and a Republic missionary, both of whom, are eventually brushed aside by the colonists with total disregard.
As the colony develops and the natives become more and more frustrated with their low status and living conditions and the loss of 90% of their land, they start to protest, eventually launching a guerilla rebellion. The Republic leaders brush it off as minor nuisance but eventually find themselves slowly becoming overwhelmed. A new breed of native leader, educated in Republic schools and aware of Republic culture, take over the rebellion and lead their people with new strength.
The book is rich with flavor and strong characterization. The story centers around Karimoni and Colonist characters from various eras in the planet’s development and their interactions. Resnick uses African history here to address injustices and issues often ignored in an outer space setting. The best science fiction uses the futuristic settings, technology, etc. to teach us or remind us of something about ourselves or our past, and Resnick does that here to great effect.
Purgatory is one of the best reads I’ve found in science fiction so far, and I look foward to reading his follow up books Paradise and Inferno very soon. Highly recommended. For what it’s worth…
Timothy Zahn is one of my favorite writers and has been very influential in my own writing. Like me, Zahn writes a lot of space opera, and he’s most famous for his Thrawn series of Star Wars novels. But he’s been writing a long time and has some great other stuff as well. His Quadrail series (Night Train to Rigel, Odd Girl Out, etc), in particular, is a great read.
Recently, I heard about another of his books, Deadman Switch, which features spiritual themes. Since I use a lot of spiritual themes in my specfic, I wanted to check it out. It was published in 1988 and is out of print, but I tracked down a copy on Amazon and read it last week. What a fantastic read. I highly recommend it.
A bit more of a mystery than a space opera, the premise of the book is that the Patri, a coalition of planets, has found a rich source of minerals in the rings and moons around the planet Solitaire. There’s only one catch, the system is surrounded by a mysterious cloud which prevents ships from entering. The only way in is using the Deadman Switch — carrying a zombi along who is killed and then flies the ship through the cloud. Death Row inmates have become the zombis of choice, and when his boss buys a large conglomerate on Solitaire to get a license to travel there, Gilead Raca Benedar is sent with the boss’ son to check out the new property and tend to details.
The problem is that Gilead belongs to a Christian order called “the Watchers,”
who have unique powers of perception allowing them to read minds. His integrity and values raise objections with the Deadman Switch idea, but then he discovers that one of the zombis on their ship (they carry two — one to go in, one to get out) is a fellow Watcher, and Gilead is convinced she’s innocent. When he sets out to prove it, drama ensues.
Eventually, Gilead takes drastic steps to protect her and escapes with her to the nearby planet Spall, hoping to find Smugglers raiding the system to use as zombis instead. In the process, they discover a new form of intelligent life previously undiscovered and end up launching a huge investigation and scientific inquiry which ropes in both watchers, Gilead’s boss, local officials, and a local religious sect. When it is discovered that a large fleet is on its way to attack the system, Gilead and the others scramble to find a way to deal with the situation.
If I tell you more, you would know too much, so I’ll leave it there, but suffice it to say the ending has plenty of surprises and the book is a great read. I read 50 pages a day until the last day when I read over 100 because I just had to know what happens. I would have read more other days too but have too much going on. It’s a pageturner, in other words, and filled with Zahn’s trademark solid science, interesting and complex characters and complicated, unfolding plotting. Truly a great read, and if you can track it down, I highly recommend doing so.
The spiritual themes are used similarly to the way I use them in my work: Christian influenced characters without being preachy, so I think even those scifi fans who are agnostic or not fans of religion would enjoy it.
I put a link to Zahn’s site on my website. I highly recommend checking out his books. You won’t regret it.
For what it’s worth…
If you haven’t met Nicodemus Weal, you should. He’s the kind of character that will touch your heart and change your perspective.
A brilliant debut by a talented writer, Spellwright‘s story is all the more intriguing because it parallels the author’s own struggles with dyslexia. The story of Nicodemus Weal, a dyslexic apprentice wizard who becomes hunted by several factions when it’s thought he could be the long awaited Halcyon, who will bring unity and power to defeat the dark forces threatening their world. Others fear he could instead be the storm Petrel who will bring destruction. So Nicodemus finds himself on the run, wondering who he is and who to trust.
Spellwright takes place in a well crafted and interesting world where words are not just communication but a force to be reckoned with. They can be harvested as weapons or shields by those with the gift of magic who learn to control them. The journey of Nico and his mentor, Magister Shannon, grabs hold of you and never lets go, taking you on a fascinating and compelling ride.
The background of author Blake Charlton (http://www.blakecharlton.com/) is as unique and interesting as that of his main character. On his own website he writes:
As a child, severe dyslexia placed me in special education for most of elementary school. Only with the support of my saintly parents did I improve enough to be mainstreamed into a normal fourth-grade classroom. I was still pulled out for remediation in half of the classes. Each year, I just barely advanced to the next grade. At twelve years old, I still couldn’t read a book by myself.
But his parents were persistent and began reading fantasy to him: Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams… As his interest grew, they began to read to Blake less and less, faking sore throats or other ailments, but always leaving the books behind. Blake writes:
I became obsessed with fantasy. I snuck Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb paperbacks into special ed study hall and read them under my desk when I was supposed to be completing spelling drills. My grades improved only marginally, but my height increased exponentially. The football coach at a local high-powered private academy noticed this and helped me get into his school. About that time I started reading science fiction (Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, etc.) and discovered more classical fantasy: Grandpa Tolkien, John Gardner, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Mary Stewart. Suddenly school wasn’t so bad: I discovered that Shakespeare and Spenser weren’t so different from Tolkien, chemistry not far off from alchemy, physics the closest thing to magic. Though I still loved football, I began to live to put my nose in books.
But this dyslexic child went on to graduate from Yale Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with distinction in the major and Trumbull College awarded him the John Spangler Nicholas Scholarship. His fascination with reading fantasy and science fiction, soon fed his creativity and he began writing. A college dean encouraged him to take time out upon seeing an early draft of Spellwright. And in 2006 Tor, seeing promise in Spellwright, offered Blake a three-book deal. Stanford Medical School, seeing the value of a career in writing and medicine, offered him admission.
Since then, Blake’s completed the preclinical years of medical school and taken the US Medical Licensing Examination. During that time, he twice rewrote Spellwright, while Stanford provided financial support in the form of a Medical Scholars Research Fellowship to write fiction.
But overcoming his own disability still wasn’t enough. In addition to his desire to help people through medicine, Blake has been an English teacher, a learning disability tutor and a football coach. His passion for learning disabled kids is part of his inspiration for Nicodemus Weal and Spellwright‘s story of the power to overcome any struggle and succeed.
Blake is preparing his draft of the followup Spellbound to turn into the publisher shortly and it should be out by the end of year. Maybe he’ll give me an early review copy, if not, I know I’ll be waiting outside the story.
A great read, a unique world, a fun adventure. Spellwright is highly recommended.
The first such entry is Lamentation, Book 1 in the Psalms of Isak, by my friend Ken Scholes.
A mix of fantasy and science fiction, Lamentation tells the story of the Named Lands, home to the survivors of a great destruction. When the great city of Windwir is suddenly destroyed, and the Named Lands’ library and repository of knowledge with it, the leaders of the provinces find themselves on the brink of war. Accusations fly about who caused the destruction. While some seek retribution, others seek restoration, and still others just want to make sense of what’s happened. Across the miles, they initiate their plots, each seeking to protect him or herself and her people and their lands.
This is epic fantasy at its finest but no sorcery or dwarves or elves. Scholes has created his own world and people, one that we’ve never seen before, and populated it with characters like us. They draw us in and capture our hearts, making us care deeply about what happens to them.
Scholes uses a variety of points of view throughout, with short, tight scenes that keep the pace compelling. I found his voice unique and his story compelling. His prose is haunting and captures you, pulling you along with it for the ride. His world building and characterization are also top notch. In fact, it was difficult to pick a favorite: Rudolfo, leader of the famed Gypsy Scouts from the Ninefold Forests; Petronus, the former pope who faked his own death and disappeared; Jae Lin Tam, faithful daughter who’s sacrificed her body and spirit in the service of her father’s political goals; Neb, illegitimate son of a monk, who watched Windwir explode and his father and whole world with it. Or perhaps it would be Isak, the metal man, keeper of the last remnant of knowledge, and possessor of a dark secret about the destruction of Windwir. Each have their own arc and history, compellingly brought together in conflict and friendship by the events which unfold.
The book has drawn impressive praise, too. New York Times bestselling speculative fiction author Orson Scott Card wrote: “This is the golden age of fantasy, with a dozen masters doing their best work. Then along comes Ken Scholes, with his amazing clarity, power, and invention, and shows us all how it’s done.” Card liked it so much, he participated in a reading of the book voicing characters.
Analog calls Scholes “one of the best writer’s you’ve never heard of,” and Editor/Publisher Jonathan Strahan said “it has the chance of standing as an important book in the evolution of the epic fantasy form…a delight…a book that readers are very likely to take to heart. it’s one of the best fantasies I’ve read in some time.”
Two of the books are out, and I’ve read them both, and I can’t wait until Antiphon comes out this fall. I wish they’d hurry up and get the others out. My only complaint is that Scholes needs to write faster or maybe just concentrate. I told Ken I am jealous of his first readers. But he’s not talking, I have to wait like everyone else lucky enough to have discovered Scholes’ saga with baited breath!
If you have tired of high fantasy or other forms you’ve seen done time and again, no matter how well, give Ken Scholes’ series a try. It’s fantastic and well worth the effort. I can’t recommend it enough.