Rob Weber (GUEST)

ROB WEBER, a regular guest at FanLit, developed a fantasy and science fiction addiction as well as a worrying Wheel of Time obsession during his college years. While the Wheel of Time has turned, the reading habit that continues to haunt him long after acquiring his BSc in environmental science. Rob keeps a blog at Val’s Random Comments.

Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories

Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories by Frederik Pohl

Platinum Pohl is a career-spanning collection of Frederik Pohl’s best short fiction. Almost every collection of short fiction contains weak stories but I was absolutely blown away by editor James Frenkel's selection of Pohl's work. It is one of the best collections of short fiction I have ever read.

Platinum Pohl contains a total of thirty stories, too many to comment on each of them but I'll name a number of the highlights. The opening story is “The Merchants of Venus,” a novella-length work and the first work than mentions the Heechee, which he would later write a number of novels about. The story deals with the dangers of exploring Venus and how to stay alive on a reasonable income in a high-cost environment. I thought Pohl’s description of Venus very interesting, the way Pohl imagines transport in particular.... Read More

Jem: A cynical speculation about humanity’s future

Jem by Frederik Pohl

Like Man Plus (1976) and Gateway (1977), books which Frederik Pohl a number of awards, Jem (1979) is another book from this highly successful period in Pohl's career. It was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards but didn't win. It did win a National Book Award.

Jem is set in the near future (as seen from the late 1970s). The world is divided in three large blocs of nations: the food-exporting nations, the oil-exporting nations and the people nations. Membership of these blocs is somewhat fluid but they do contribute to a certain balance of power that has kept the world more or less peaceful. With a steadily rising population, though, competition for the world's resources has become fierce. The nations are looking to the stars to fuel humanity's growth. Although the problem of crossing light years in ... Read More

At the Gates of Darkness: Nowhere near Feist’s best

At the Gates of Darkness by Raymond E. Feist

At the Gates of Darkness is the second book in the Demonwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist, and while his work is some of the first fantasy I've read and enjoyed enough to purchase, over the years my appreciation of his work has waned somewhat. This is partly because I have discovered books that are qualitatively much better, and partly because I have developed my taste as a reader of fantasy. I do have fond memories of his first dozen books, however, so every time a new one hits the shelves I find myself reading it against my better judgement.

At the Gates of Darkness continues the story that began in Rides a Dread Legion and chronicles the efforts of Pug and his Conclave of Shadows to deal with the threat... Read More

Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls: Deserves more attention

Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls by Jane Lindskold

Originally released in 1994, Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls is Jane Lindskold's first published novel. She is perhaps better known for her Firekeeper books and her collaboration with Roger Zelazny, and her more recent work is considered (urban) fantasy, but this book strikes me as more of a near future science fiction novel. As in a lot of her novels, there is a strong connection between animals and people, although not quite in the way the title seems to suggest. The utter strangeness of the main character and the first person narrative make the novel a very interesting read.

At the opening of Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls, Sarah is staying i... Read More

All the Lives He Led: Good, but not up to Pohl’s usual standard

All the Lives He Led by Frederik Pohl

Frederik Pohl sold his first work in 1937; seventy-four years later, a new novel hit the selves. I don't think many authors can boast such a long career. I've read several of Pohl's novels as well as Platinum Pohl, a best of collection of short fiction, and I very much like the often slightly satiric nature of his work. The second half of the 1970s are usually considered the best period in his writing career, but Pohl has been producing a steady stream of new books, sometimes in collaboration with others, in the last two decades. The only book from this late period in his career I have read was The Last Theorem Read More

Man Plus: Puzzling and enjoyable

Man Plus by Frederik Pohl

In the 1970s Frederik Pohl produced a number of highly regarded science fiction novels. Man Plus, which earned a Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1976, shows its age just a bit but I still found it very much worth reading.

In the near future, as seen from the 1970s, we may well be there now, the world is in a pretty bad shape. The sheer size of the human population the earth has to support has put a strain on the resources available. Hunger is a serious problem, as are dictatorial regimes. The US finds itself increasingly alone as a bastion of democracy and capitalism. When a conflict with the Chinese threatens to get out of control and result in thermo-nuclear warfare, the US president is desperate to direct the attention of the public elsewhere. Thus NASA's program to create a man capable of surviving on the surface of Mars is born.

To make surviving the harsh cond... Read More

The Eye of the Heron: A short but complex novel suitable for all ages

The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K. Le Guin

Starscape (Tom Doherty’s YA imprint) presents The Eye of the Heron as a book for ages 10 and above. While the story is straightforward enough, the philosophical ideas that underpin the story are quite complex, so The Eye of the Heron is quite an interesting read for the more mature reader as well. Le Guin does not waste any words in telling the story, she delivers a to-the-point but surprisingly complex novel. If you read it at age 10, you’ll probably see it in a different light now.

The Eye of the Heron is set on a planet that was fairly recently colonized. Le Guin doesn’t mention a year but sometime in the 22nd century seems reasonable. Two waves of colonists have settled a small area of the planet. One group consists of criminals from a nation that covers South America, sent on a one way trip to dispose ... Read More

Starlady and Fast-Friend: Two novelettes by George R.R. Martin

Starlady and Fast-Friend by George R.R. Martin

In July 2008 Subterranean published this book containing two novelettes by George R.R. Martin, both of which were originally published in 1976. They are presented in a similar fashion to the Ace Double novels of the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, Starlady and Fast-Friend has two covers and is printed back to back and upside down. I was born too late and on the wrong continent to have been exposed to any of these double novels myself, but I thought it an interesting idea anyway. In his collection Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective, a publication that is central to Martin’s work, he mentions Starlady and Fast-Friend as some of his earliest exposures to (written) science fiction — stories that took him to “walk beneath the light of distant stars.” But they weren’t included in Dreamsongs: A RR... Read More

The Octagonal Raven: Be patient with it

The Octagonal Raven by L.E. Modesitt Jr

His fantasy, in particular the RECLUCE saga, is a lot more popular but L.E. Modesitt Jr. has also written quite a few science fiction novels. I've read a number of these now and they are usually an all or nothing read for me. Some I enjoyed tremendously (Flash, Adiamante, The Forever Hero), others I will never read again (The Ethos Effect, Archfrom: Beauty). The Octagonal Raven has the unusual distinction of combining these two feelings in one book. I have never come across a book that is so much in need of some serious editing in the first part of the story, yet managing such a thrilling climax that I read the second part of the novel in one sitting.

The main character in The Octagonal Raven is ... Read More

The Best of Connie Willis: Everyone must read Connie Willis

The Best of Connie Willis by Connie Willis

Connie Willis has received a staggering eleven Hugo and seven Nebula awards in her career, an achievement nobody has equaled. Her induction in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009 and receiving the SFWA Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement in 2011 can hardly be called surprising. Of her novels, three or four, depending on whether or not you count the two volumes Blackout and All Clear as a single work, have won awards, the rest Willis received for her short fiction.

The Best of Connie Willis: Award-winning Stories contains ten pieces of fiction, ranging from short stories to novellas. As the title suggests each has won at least one award. Willis has written an introduction to the collection and brief afterwords for each of the stories. Three of her acceptance speeches have also been added. The stories... Read More

Scion of Cyador: A well-balanced and politically complex story

Scion of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Scion of Cyador is the direct sequel to Magi'i of Cyador and chronologically the earliest book in the series, though it is the eleventh of eighteen books (to date). I read Magi'i of Cyador a while ago and I couldn't suppress the urge to read the sequel any longer. This book is a little less focused on battles and a bit more on politics, especially the second half. L.E. Modesitt is very good at letting the reader see all the little signs of change and what they add up to. It's one of the longer SAGA OF RECLUCE books but well worth the read.

After his excursions within the Accursed Forest, Lorn is sent to the port city of Biehl, generally considered a quiet outpost where chances of getting involved in skirmishes with the barbar... Read More

Magi’i of Cyador: Excellent politics, worldbuilding, and familiar characters

Magi'i of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

The nice things about L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s long-running RECLUCE series is that once you are familiar with the timeline you can reread them in pretty much any order you like. There are never more than two books with the same main character. Mind you, for the first read-through, publication order is still the best order to read them as Modesitt refines his Order/Chaos-based system of magic over time. Once in a while I reread one of these books; I call this my random RECLUCE rereads. All of the early RECLUCE books are written from the Black, Ordermage side of things. Starting from the 8th book onwards (The White Order) Modesitt changes the series around on the reader and writes four books with a focus on White (Chaos) oriented characters. These are some of th... Read More

Pacific Edge: Visions of a high-maintenance upotia

Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson

Where The Wild Shore shows us a post-apocalyptic California and The Gold Coast deals with future where urbanisation is out of control, in Pacific Edge Kim Stanley Robinson explores a utopian future: a California where people have learned to listen to the land and to pursue more sustainable population levels and economic activity. Together, these three books make up the THREE CALIFORNIAS TRIPTYCH.

In 2065 the world looks quite different from what we are used to. The unsustainable economic practices of the past have been severely curtailed by putting limits on company size and personal income among other, equally drastic measures. The main character is Kevin, an architect judging from the descriptions of designing lovely s... Read More

Hellhole: A major disappointment. Not recommended.

Hellhole by Kevin J. Anderson & Brian Herbert

After a failed rebellion against the corrupt regime of the Constellation (an interstellar empire that spans dozens of worlds) General Tiber Adolphus is exiled to the newly colonized and extremely hostile planet of Hallholme. Because of the harsh conditions of this world, it is quickly awarded a nickname: Hellhole. His rebellion may have failed, but Adolphus still commands the loyalty of much of the population. Despite attempts by the ruler of the Constellation, Diadem Michella Duchenet, to make sure his attempt to settle Hallholme fails, he survives the first years there. Now, more than a decade later, Adolphus is at the point where he once again has the support and resources to undertake action against the tyrant Duchenet. And this time he means to succeed.

Hellhole is without a doubt, one of the worst books I've read in the past few years. Read More

Tongues of Serpents: Wandering aimlessly in Australia

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Tongues of Serpents is the sixth book in Naomi Novik's successful TEMERAIRE series. I understand Novik means to write three more, ending the nine-book series with the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Novik's mix of dragons and history proved addictive for many readers but I must admit that I felt the series was running out of steam after reading the fifth book, Victory of Eagles. Given my reaction to the last book in the series, I wasn't sure if I wanted to read the next novel as well. I did so anyway last week; my to-read stack currently consists of a lot of pretty heavy reading, and once in a while I am in the mood for something lighter. Unfortunately, Tongues of Serpents turned out to be the weakest in the series so far.

Af... Read More

Dreamer of Dune: A faithful portrait of a sci-fi legend

Dreamer of Dune by Brian Herbert

In 2003 Tor released Dreamer of Dune, a biography of Frank Herbert (1920 - 1986) written by his son Brian Herbert, who has written a number of novels as well. The best known of these are the DUNE prequels and sequels written in collaboration with Kevin J. Anderson. Dreamer of Dune is not the only book about Frank Herbert or his works but the others I am aware of are currently out of print. My copy had been sitting on a shelf for years before I finally picked it up after finishing Frank Herbert’s The Green Brain.

Dreamer of Dune covers Herbert's entire life from his birth in 1920 to his untimely death in 1986. ... Read More

Victory of Eagles: Darker than the previous novels

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

(Contains slight spoilers for Empire of Ivory)

Victory of Eagles is the fifth instalment in Naomi Novik's TEMERAIRE series. I thought the previous four books had ups and downs but in general they are fun, fast reads. The fourth book, Empire of Ivory, had a very promising end, so I was rather looking forward to reading this. I guess Victory of Eagles mirrors the series as a whole in that it has its ups and downs but is generally enjoyable.

After Laurence's decision to deliver the cure for the dragon disease that struck Britain in Empire of Ivory to the French, thereby undoing a deliberate attempt by the British to infect the French dragons, he is put... Read More

Whipping Star: One of Herbert’s more interesting novels

Whipping Star by Frank Herbert

Whipping Star is one of Frank Herbert’s non-Dune books that Tor has been reprinting in recent years. This 1970 novel is the first full novel in the ConSentiency universe, which up to this point consisted of only two short stories. Both of them are contained in the collection Eye and may very well be included in other short fiction collections. Like these short stories, Whipping Star features the unusually observant BuSab agent Jorj X. McKie as a main character. This universe is also the setting of what I consider to be Herbert’s best non-Dune book: Read More

Fort Freak: A WILD CARDS novel that can be read as a stand-alone

Fort Freak by George R.R. Martin

Fort Freak is the twenty-first entry in the WILD CARDS universe, a long running series of mosaic novels edited by George R.R. Martin. It is not necessary to have read the previous twenty volumes to read this one; Fort Freak works fine as a standalone. There are numerous references to earlier books and cameos by characters that starred in them, but nothing that makes it absolutely necessary to have read earlier volumes. That is probably a good thing. The WILD CARDS series is currently published by Tor, the fourth publisher to take on this series. Some of the older volumes are pretty hard to find these days. The original WILD CARDS novel (1987) has been reprinted by Tor recently, with a number of new stories added, so if you want to read... Read More

Suicide Kings: Surprising depth

Suicide Kings edited by George R.R. Martin

Suicide Kings is the third part in the latest reincarnation of the long-running WILD CARDS series. Together with Inside Straight and Busted Flush it forms the Committee trilogy. I guess you could consider this trilogy WILD CARDS the next generation. These books are meant to be an entry point for new readers. Like most of the previous novels, Suicide Kings is a collaborative effort. This volume is written by six authors — Daniel Abraham, S.L. Farrell, Victor Milán, Melin... Read More

Busted Flush: Not very satisfying

Busted Flush edited by George R.R. Martin

Busted Flush is the nineteenth entry in the Wild Cards series of mosaic novels edited by George R.R. Martin. The previous book, Inside Straight is something of a new beginning for the series, a new trilogy with new characters and a couple of new writers. It's a good point to get started. Unfortunately Busted Flush falls a bit short of the standard set in the first book of the Committee trilogy.

The story picks up some time after the events in Inside Straight. The UN secretary-general has snapped up the new American heroes after their dramatic performance in Egypt and formed the Committee — a group of Aces dealing with everything from genocide to natural disasters.There is plenty of work; our heroes are spread thin. In fact, the cracks in their organisation are clearly beginning to show. There ... Read More

Inside Straight: A WILD CARDS reboot

Inside Straight edited by George R.R. Martin

The year 2008 saw the (second?) rebirth of the WILD CARDS series edited and co-written by George R.R. Martin. These are ‘mosaic’ novels — stories written by several authors and set in a shared universe. The first book, Wild Cards, appeared in 1987. Inside Straight (2008) is book 18. To make this 18th book a good entry point, Martin and his companions created something of a Wild Cards: the Next Generation to reboot the series.

What do you need to know about the back story of the Wild Cards? Not a lot really. In 1946 an alien virus hit earth. It killed ninety percent of those infected, disfigured nine percent and left a lucky one percent with superhuman powers. The unlucky nine percent a... Read More

Flandry’s Legacy: Finishes the Technic Civilization stories

Flandry's Legacy by Poul Anderson

Flandry's Legacy is the conclusion to Baen's project to publish all Anderson's works in the Technic Civilization in chronological order. In total the series covers seven volumes and over 3,000 pages, all published between 1951 and 1985. This last volume contains two novels and four shorter pieces that cover almost four millennia in Anderson's future history. I must admit that after reading the previous volume, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Kinight of Terra, I suffered from a bit of a Flandry overdose. I'm not a huge fan of this character, it turns out. In this volume, Flandry makes his final appearance before Anderson takes us into the Long Night and out the other end. I had high hopes for this last part in the sage and indeed, I enjoyed the last stories in the collection a lot.

The collection opens with the last novel in which Flandry is the mai... Read More

Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight of Terra

Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight of Terra by Poul Anderson

Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight of Terra is the sixth part in Baen's project to publish all of Poul Anderson's works in the Technic Civilization universe in chronological order. This edition is again marred by some truly horrific cover art. I have a hard time deciding which of the volumes with Flandry in the title has the worst cover. I guess Baen is trying to emphasize the James Bond is space image of Flandry but it could have been done a bit more tastefully. Can you see yourself reading this on the train going home from work? I'm going to have to keep this cover carefully hidden from visitors. Let’s get back to the actual content. This volume contains three full length novels as well as well as a short story. The most interesting piece was the last novel in the collection, A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows.

The... Read More

Captain Flandry: Defender of the Terran Empire

Captain Flandry by Poul Anderson

Captain Flandry: Defender of the Terran Empire is the fifth part in Baen's project to collect all the stories in Anderson's Technic Civilization and publish them by internal chronology. Three of the previous four books centred on the characters of Nicolas van Rijn and David Falkayn. In book four, aptly named Young Flandry, a new hero takes over. It is graced by one of the most horrific covers I've come across although Captain Flandry is giving it a run for its money. This cover even got the attention of the bad cover art blog Good Show Sir! I suppose it is the content that counts however, so let's have a look at that.

Captain Flandry contains six stories — one full novel and five shorter works, including the first Flandry story ever p... Read More

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