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The Ringworld Engineers: Boring sequel

The Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven

In 1970 Larry Niven published Ringworld, a high-concept novel that won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. What mostly captured readers’ imaginations was not RIngworld’s characters or plot, but its setting. The Ringworld is a huge (and I mean HUGE) artificial ring-shaped structure that orbits a star outside of Known Space. Nobody knows who built it or for what reason it was built. The protagonist of the story, Louis Wu, a bored 200 year old human from Earth, is invited on a quest to visit and study the Ringworld. As I mentioned in my review, I thought the novel was talky and a bit dull, but I absolutely loved the Ringworld itself.

Larry Niven didn’t plan to write ... Read More

Unbound: A somewhat weaker continuation of an OK series

Unbound by Jim C. Hines

Unbound is Jim C. Hines’ third book in his MAGIC EX LIBRIS series, and I had the same response I pretty much had to book two, which was that it is a light sort of fantasy which has issues that are somewhat, but not fully, balanced by the love of the genre evident in the storyline. I noted at the end of my review of book two, Codex Born, that I was worried about a sense of diminishing returns, and I think that is a bit realized here. Book four, Revisionary, has just arrived this year, and I’d say it’s good that it appears to be a concluding volume, though perhaps that should have come a book earlier.

MAGIC EX LIBRIS really needs to be rea... Read More

Dragon Wing: Not very good

Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

The Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman novels make up one of those corners of the Fantasy genre that you either enjoyed in your teens (and remember fondly)... or you didn’t. I have to admit that I’m of the latter camp, and while I strongly suspect that there was a time when I could have greatly enjoyed Dragon Wing, that time has passed me by. These days, I’m a little too jaded and I’ve read a few too many works in a very similar vein. Dragon Wing isn’t bad, necessarily, but I’d be lying if I said I particularly like it.

It starts well, mind you, as master assassin Hugh the Hand is employed by the king for that most politicall... Read More

The 5th Wave: One too many apocalypses in this YA alien novel

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

An alien apocalypse is Rick Yancey’s take on a new challenge for the plucky heroine prototype that has emerged in the wake of Katniss Everdeen. Whilst The 5th Wave is not quite a dystopia, there is something startlingly familiar about the feisty female lead who attempts to single-handedly take down the alien race that’s oppressing humankind in a post-apocalyptic world. With the film adaptation just released in the US, could this be the next YA mega-franchise?

First things first, how did the world fall to its knees? It seems Yancey couldn’t decide on his weapon of choice to wipe out humanity, so he chose them all. To begin with, there was an electromagnetic pulse that wiped out electricity, sending humanity back... Read More

Ruffleclaw: Silly children’s story narrated by the author

Ruffleclaw by Cornelia Funke

Ruffleclaw is a chapter book (114 pages) recently written and illustrated by Cornelia Funke, the German author and artist whose books (e.g., Inkheart, The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider) are loved by children and adults around the world. Ruffleclaw is translated into English by Oliver Latsch. I listened to the audio version which is read by the author and is just over 1.5 hours long.

Ruffleclaw is a furry red monster who lives under the toolshed in Tommy’s back yard. He thinks humans are icky (he calls them “slimy slugs”) but he loves their food, their cozy beds, and the music that he hears coming from Tommy’s mother’s piano. That’s why, against the advice of his monster friends, he decides to... Read More

In Endless Twilight: Timely discussions, then a really weird ending

In Endless Twilight by L.E. Modesitt Jr

In Endless Twilight (1988) is the final installment in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s THE FOREVER HERO trilogy. My review will probably contain spoilers for the first two novels, Dawn for a Distant Earth and The Silent Warrior. You need to read them before opening In Endless Twilight.

During Dawn for a Distant Earth, we saw Gerswin getting the education and skills he needed to be able to fulfill his dream of restoring the ruined Earth. In The Silent Warrior, we see Gerswin’s character darken as he realizes that the galactic empire he serves doesn’t share his goals. The commercial barons who control the economic and political systems are... Read More

Dragon Heart: Needed to be longer or shorter

Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland

Cecelia Holland’s Dragon Heart had so much potential, with its gothic, Mervyn Peake-like setting and darkly surreal family dynamics. Unfortunately, Dragon Heart never fulfilled its promise, marred especially by a frustrating lack of fluidity or cohesion.

The relatively slim novel (about 270 pages) is set mostly in Castle Ocean, home to the ruling family of a small coastal land threatened (and really mostly-conquered) by an aggressive large empire to the east. The former king was killed by the Empire, leaving his queen with little choice but to marry one of the Emperor’s brothers. In fact, she has already killed the first brother-fiancé, but now a second inhabits Castle Ocean, waiting only the return of Tirza — the queen’s daughter — lost at sea, be... Read More

Made to Kill: Should have kept it as a long short story

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher

In his afterword to his new novel Made to Kill, Adam Christopher explains how the idea first saw life as a long short story/novelette entitled “Brisk Money.” While this more extensive take on the story is still relatively slim for a novel, coming in at just over 200 pages, I have to admit that it seemed to me that Christopher would have been better off simply writing another “episode” of his narrative via another short story rather than trying to expand the original into something larger.

That original story germinated out of a question from a Tor roundtable: “If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a nonliving author, who would it be?” Christopher, a huge Raymond Chandler fan, thought he’d like to read Chandler’s “lost science-fiction epic” (Ch... Read More

Dreams of Shreds and Tatters: Gradually, my suspension of disbelief eroded away

Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum

I’m giving this book a lower rating than I expected to. Usually a 2.5-star rating from me means I found serious structural, character or writing problems with the book, and that’s not the case here. My low rating of Amanda Downum’s Dreams of Shreds and Tatters reflects the gap between my expectations and my experience. The writer did do a few things that jarred me out of the book, though, and I am going to discuss those.

First of all, I’d like to talk about what I liked. I loved the idea here, of a group of artists under the sway of a magician, searching for a portal to a mysterious city in another realm. I liked moments in the writing; when she wants to, Downum can unleash a passage of weird, lush prose that is captivating and beautiful. For the most part, I l... Read More

The Crystal World: Time and death are defeated as crystallization takes over

The Crystal World by J.G. Ballard

The Crystal World (1966) is J.G. Ballard’s third apocalyptic work in which he destroys civilization, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Drowned World (1962). It seems he likes the elements, having employed floods, draughts, and now crystallization. The process somewhat resembles Ice-9 in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963), but there is no ironic humor to be found in this book as far I could tell. In The Drowned World, the flooding of the world was used as a metaphor for diving deep into the collective racial memories of the Triassic-age, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. This time, Ballard posits a ... Read More

Empire Ascendant: A disappointingly muddy follow-up to The Mirror Empire

Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

I thought Kameron Hurley’s first book in her WORLDBREAKER SAGA, The Mirror Empire, was a richly imagined, ambitious novel that landed on the positive side of the ledger even if its flaws gave the book’s strengths a run for their money. Unfortunately, the flaws do a bit more than that in the sequel, Empire Ascendant, leading to an overall weaker second effort.

The Worldbreaker setting is a multi-verse with parallel worlds that, over time, shift relative to the others and with “ascendant” and “descendant” satellites that serve as sources of magical power for select people (known as “jistas”) sensitive to a particular one. One of those worlds, facing its destruction, is in the midst of invading another, with the complicatio... Read More

Starship Troopers: A 250-page lecture on the ethics and morals of war, violence and race

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

As part of my reading routine, I like to go to the way-back machine and catch up on genre classics. Within sci-fi, a few years ago I reread Frank Herbert's Dune, which is as heavy and awesome as I’d remembered. I discovered and loved Walter M. Miller's wonderful Canticle for Leibowitz.

Robert Heinlein, of course, is one of the heavyweights of the genre, but I'd never read anything of his and my only previous exposure to Starship Troopers (1959) was from the 1997 sci-fi film of the same title. Now keep in mind, the book has only the barest Read More

Talking to Dragons: The first, fourth, and final ENCHANTED FOREST book

Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Talking to Dragons is the fourth and final book in Patricia C. Wrede’s ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES, though it was actually the first book in the series to be published (1985). Wrede wrote the later three books (Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons) as prequels and now the correct reading order is to start with those three prequels and read Talking to Dragons last. So, in this review, I’ll be spoiling a bit of the plot of the prequels.

The hero of Talking to Dragons is Daystar, son of Princess Cimorene and King Mendanbar. At the end of the previous book, Calling on Dragons, Mendanbar was tra... Read More

Queen of Fire: A series goes out with a whimper

Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan

Warning: Will contain spoilers for previous books in the RAVEN’S SHADOW series

Anthony Ryan’s RAVEN’S SHADOW series follows the life of Vaelin Al Sorna and his comrades, from his childhood in the religious, militaristic 6th Order to his career as a general, commander, and practitioner of the Dark (magic). Queen of Fire, the third and final book of RAVEN’S SHADOW, brings the series to a conclusion that leaves much to be desired. Following the victory at Alltor orchestrated by Vaelin, Queen Lyrna, the new leader of the Unified Realm after the bloody assassination of her brother, proceeds to invade the Volarian Empire, which has been controlled by the Ally for centuries. At the same time, Vaelin sets off north to find ancient secr... Read More

The Sleeping King: Like reading the script of a LARP session

The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees & Bill Flippin

Fantasy role-playing games come in all flavors and styles: from the well-known tabletop format of Dungeons and Dragons, to live-action role-playing (LARP) sessions in which players craft armor and characters, to video games based on the D&D format (Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights), to chat forums in which players create text-based adventures, to card-based games like Magic: The Gathering, there truly is something out there for any interested person to explore. Cindy Dees, a best-selling author of suspense and thriller novels, and Bill Flippin, the creator of the Dragon Crest LARP game, have brought the world and characters of Dragon Crest to the page in The Sleeping King, the first in a planned epic fantasy series.

Will, a cobbler’s son with a hidden... Read More

Raphael: A bit of a struggle to finish

Raphael by R.A. MacAvoy

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for the previous books, Damiano and Damiano’s Lute.

R.A. MacAvoy winds up her DAMIANO trilogy with Raphael, a book that focuses on the angel Raphael instead of Damiano, the young man who was the protagonist of the first two books. That’s because at the end of the previous book, Damiano’s Lute, Damiano died when he sacrificed himself for Gaspar’s sister. That deed was noble, I suppose, and perhaps MacAvoy is saying something about sacrifice and redemption in this religiously-inspired story, but it probably didn’t resonate much with readers since we don’t like Gaspar and don’t even know his sister. I was hoping to get a sense of the importance of... Read More

The Black Star Passes: For a very limited crew

The Black Star Passes by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, some of my favorite reading material, sci-fi-wise, was the wonderful series of 21 “Best of” anthologies put out by Ballantine. In an early indication of my future tastes, my favorites among those 21 collections were those by C.L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton and Philip K. Dick, although to be truthful, I thoroughly enjoyed them all… with one exception. The Best of John W. Campbell, it seemed to me, was just OK; a... Read More

The Dinosaur Lords: Even dinosaurs can’t fully save it

The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán

It takes no effort at all to imagine what the “elevator mash-up pitch” for Victor Milán’s The Dinosaur Lords was: “It’s Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones!”  And darned if that wholly predictable selling phrase isn’t the main blurb (provided by none other than George R.R. Martin himself) sitting right above the title of my copy. And herein lie two of the problems with The Dinosaur Lords. One is that, like that mash-up blurb, there are no surprises awaiting the reader here; it’s pretty much same old same old European medieval historical fantasy with the usual smidgeon of magic. And two is that it rises nowhere near the level of either of its metaphorical parents (and yes, you can include Jurassic Park 2 ... Read More

Hothouse: Fertile and bizarre plant life, but human characters are pretty wooden

Hothouse by Brian W. Aldiss

Yeah, Brian W. AldissHothouse (1962) was definitely written with some chemical assistance. Maybe some LSD-spiked vegetable juice? It may have been written as a set of five short stories in 1961, but it’s a timeless and bizarre story of a million years in the future when the plants have completely taken over the planet, which has stopped rotating, and humans are little green creatures hustling to avoid becoming plant food.

There are hundreds of fearsome carnivorous plants that would love to eat human morsels, but will gladly settle for eating each other instead. As the planet has come to a stop, a massive banyan tree now covers the sunny-side of the planet, with all other plants surviving in its shade. But there are gargantuan plant-based spiders called traversers who dwell above the plant layer and actually spin webs across space to the moon and other pla... Read More

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola and illustrated by Emily Carrol

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola and illustrated by Emily Carrol

Baba Yaga's Assistant, by Marika McCoola and illustrated by Emily Carrol, is a MG graphic novel that tries to work the frightening richness of the Baba Yaga folktales into the press of modern family life, but despite the great source material, the attempt falls short, though it has its moments.

The protagonist is Masha, a young girl whose father has just proposed to a woman sometime after her mother's death. Her father had relegated most of Masha’s upbringing to her grandmother, also dead by now, and has also apparently sprung this new relationship on her somewhat out of the b... Read More

Beginnings: Five stories from the “Honorverse”

Beginnings by David Weber

Beginnings is the sixth book in the WORLDS OF HONOR series, edited by David Weber. WORLDS OF HONOR collects stories about Honor Harrington and other Honorverse character, often written by other writers. As Beginnings implies, these five stories mostly take place before Honor’s service in the Royal Manticoran Navy. One takes place late in Honor’s career, and explores changes to the navy of Grayson, a world with a rigid, patriarchal political system.

In “By the Book,” Charles E. Gannon provides some rollicking action, a cerebral mystery and a political coming-of-age of a young Lieutenant. Earth-sider — or “dirt-sider” as the i... Read More

The Diviners: YA supernatural horror

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners is a 2012 YA fantasy in the supernatural horror genre, and the first book in THE DIVINERS series by Libba Bray.  At a birthday party in Manhattan in the 1920's, a group of partying teenagers decides to play with a Ouija board. They promptly do several things they're really not supposed to do, like failing to make the spirit controlling the board say good-bye (is this really a thing?), thereby unleashing the spirit of a dead serial killer on the world.

The second chapter of The Diviners introduces our main character, Evie O’Neill, from Ohio. She's an insolent and self-centered seventeen-year-old who likes to party hard and drink too much gin. Evie spouts 1920’s slang almost every time she opens her mouth, and thinks she's smarter than everyone else around her, including her parents. Evie also has the ab... Read More

The Goshawk: Love the hawk, hated the author

The Goshawk by T.H. White

When I found out that T.H. White, the author of The Once and Future King, had written The Goshawk, a book about training a hawk, I jumped at the chance to read it. I love stories about birds of prey (probably fostered by a childhood obsession with My Side of the Mountain) and have often fantasized about becoming an amateur falconer.

Based on The Goshawk, these fantasies are not likely to come true. T.H. White describes the process for training a hawk in stark detail and it does not sound appealing or practical for my current lifestyle, which involves sleep and sanity and a minimum of animal abuse. Apparently you have to keep the bird awake and hungry for two or three days straight until it passes out from exhaustion, resting... Read More

Field of Dishonor: The Mary Sue goes Terminator

Field of Dishonor by David Weber

David Weber’s Field of Dishonor is the fourth book in the HONOR HARRINGTON series. I have read On Basilisk Station, the first book, but not the intervening ones (though Kat has.) This review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

I liked this book more than On Basilisk Station because there was slightly less lecturing, but the entertainment value is frequently squashed flat by Honor’s perfection and the ease with which things unfold for her. Honor plays the videogame of her fictional life on the Easy setting, even when she goes Terminator on an enemy.

At this point in Honor Harrington’s career she ha... Read More

Steal the Dragon: Fun, light fantasy with some disturbing subtexts

Steal the Dragon by Patricia Briggs

In Steal the Dragon, Patricia Briggs creates yet another strong, believable female protagonist in Rialla, a horse trainer and ex-slave from the country of Darran, who now lives in Sianim. (In fact, Steal the Dragon is technically part of a series called SIANIM, but as the books in the series do not share a lot of plot or characters, merely a setting, you don’t have to read the others to enjoy it.) She learns from the spymaster of Sianim that an influential lord in Darran would like to outlaw slavery, but that his life is in danger. Against her better judgment, she travels back to her home country in the guise of a slave to Laeth, her trusted friend and the brother to the lord of Darran. They hope to uncover the threat to Laeth’s brother and ensu... Read More