Rob Weber

GUEST REVIEWER

Rob Weber 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. To keep withdrawal at bay, minimum required intake is currently about two books a week. Other peculiarities include a fondness of Rory Gallagher’s music, katjang pedis and volleyball. Favourite fixes include works by Kim Stanley Robinson, Ian McDonald, Nancy Kress and Daniel Abraham. Rob keeps a blog at Val’s Random Comments.

The Van Rijn Method: Golden Age SF with a more literary style

The Van Rijn Method by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson was a prolific author in fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction. A couple of years ago I read one of his last novels, Mother of Kings, a historical work based on the life of the tenth century Norse queen Gunnhild. The prose requires a bit of patience on the reader’s part but both the subject and style of that book appealed to me. In science fiction Anderson is probably best known for his work in the long running Technic civilization setting. Between 1951 and 1985 Anderson wrote countless novels and stories in this universe. Baen has collected these in seven omnibus editions with The Van Rijn Method being the first.

Although the Technic civilization stories share the same setting, there is no overarching story; all the works in this volume can be read independently. The editor, Hank Davies, has chosen to order the stori... Read More

The Santaroga Barrier: Frank Herbert’s most underrated novel

The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert

A couple of years back Tor reissued four of Frank Herbert's novels in absurdly cheap paperback format. For some of these titles it had been quite a while since they'd been in print and despite a poor quality of the paperbacks I snapped them up as soon as they were published. Thankfully Tor realized its mistake and reissued another four novels in a somewhat more durable format a while later. These first four reissues contained what I consider Herbert's best novel (The Dosadi Experiment) as well as the worst (The Green Brain). All four are quite different from his famous DUNE novels but in quite a few you can see him returning to themes he used in DUNE. The Santaroga Barrier is one of his more interesting novels. A deceptively simple story, really.

Psychologist Gilbert Dasein is assig... Read More

Direct Descent: Frank Herbert’s worst novel

Direct Descent by Frank Herbert

Direct Descent (1980) is by a fair margin the weakest novel by Frank Herbert I've read.

In the far future the whole of Earth's interior has been taken up by a gigantic library. Ships travel the known universe to collect information about just about everything and bring it back to Earth to archive it and make it available to the entire galaxy. The first and foremost rule of this organization is always obey the government whomever that may be — a rule meant to underline the library’s strict neutrality. But what if the government sends its warships at you? How can you defend yourself armed with archives full of useless knowledge and a policy of strict obedience?

Direct Descent is expanded from the short story “The Pack Rat Planet,” which first appeared in Astounding in December 1954. It is one of Herbert's earliest scie... Read More

The Jesus Incident: A curious book

The Jesus Incident by Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom

In Herbert’s 1966 novel Destination: Void, a story about an experiment to create artificial intelligence, a crew was sent out to space with only two alternatives: succeed or die. In the late 1970s, Herbert returned to the Destination: Void universe with a new novel co-authored by Bill Ransom. Herbert rewrote parts of the original novel which he felt were dated, and the new version was published in 1978, slightly before The Jesus Incident. According to Dreamer of Dune, Brian Herbert's biography of his father, the writing of this new novel was not without its challenges. They based the story on a shorter piece named Songs of a Sentient Flute. When the first draft was almost completed, copyright issues arose. The planet... Read More

Destination: Void: Probably destined for obscurity

Destination: Void by Frank Herbert

Destination: Void was first published in Galaxy under the title Do I Sleep or Wake in 1965 before the first version of the book appeared in 1966. It was revised and partially rewritten for the 1978 publication, released before Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom embarked on the DESTINATION: VOID trilogy set in the same universe. Together these books make up the PANDORA SEQUENCE.

Destination: Void is set in a future where humanity has been experimenting with artificial intelligence. To achieve a truly conscious artificial intelligence without risking earth, a crew of (expendable) cloned humans are sent safely on a journey to one of the nearby stars under the care of a spaceship completely controlled by a computer overseen by a disembodied human brain. Although the reader is given reason to doubt the t... Read More

The Eyes of Heisenberg: Fascinating ideas, lacks character development

The Eyes of Heisenberg by Frank Herbert

The Eyes of Heisenberg (1966) is set in a far future where humanity is ruled by a small group of biological immortals known as Optimen. They have lived for tens of thousands of years and regulated every aspect of life. Their life and health is preserved by carefully maintaining the balance. Genetic engineering has progressed to the point where the genetic sequences of a fertilized ovum can be manipulated by highly skilled doctors. This technique is used to keep the population within a narrow genetic bandwidth and decide who gets to have children. Parents have little say in this matter but they are not entirely without rights. When Lizbeth and Harvey Durant, a couple lucky enough to be selected for breeding, exercise one of these rights, to be present at the modifying of the genetic material of their child, it becomes apparent that there is a certain uncontrollable element to procr... Read More

Act One: A Thought-provoking and moving story

Act One by Nancy Kress

Ever since reading Kress' wonderful collection Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories I've been keeping an eye out for her short fiction. A number of her short works won Nebulas and Hugos, the most recent was a Hugo in 2009 for her novella The Erdmann Nexus, which unfortunately I haven' t read yet. The novella Act One was nominated for the Hugo, Locus and Nebula award but won none of them. It was originally published in Asimov's in 2009. As usual, it is a thought-provoking and moving story.

I always have trouble reviewing shorter works without giving too much of the story away. The text below is a bit spoilerish.

Barry Tenler is the manager of the ageing, and in recent years none too successful, actress Jane Snow. Still, there is a new opportunity waiting and Barry believes this role will do Jane's c... Read More

The Gypsy: A Brust & Lindholm collaboration

The Gypsy by Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm

Experienced police man Mike Stepovich anf his green partner Durand apprehend a gypsy suspected of murdering a shopkeeper. Stepovich immediately notices something strange about the gypsy and does something he's never done in his long career. He fails to turn in the knife the gypsy is carrying. Somehow he knows the gypsy is not the murderer and the knife is special. Later that night, the gypsy disappears without a trace from the police cell they are holding him in. Murder investigations are not the territory of an ordinary patrol cop but this case does not let him go, especially when the body of an old gypsy woman turns up. Again, the suspect Stepovich and his partner arrested seems to be involved and Stepovich is determined to find him. His search will lead him into a supernatural power struggle the existence of which he never suspected.

The Gypsy (1992) is an u... Read More

The Wild Shore: Kim Stanley Robinson’s first novel

The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Wild Shore is the first book of Kim Stanley Robinson’s THREE CALIFORNIAS trilogy. Each book covers a possible future of Orange County, the place where Robinson grew up. The Wild Shore was first published in 1984 and was his first full-length novel. I wasn't sure if the concept would appeal to me. Would it get repetitive? I decided to give the first one a go anyway. I always liked post-apocalyptic settings so this first book probably suits me best. No regrets after reading it. The Wild Shore is a very good read.

The story is set in California after crippling nuclear strikes against the US have laid the nation to waste. The details of these attacks remain unclear, but we do know that it took place in the mid 1980’s and that the US did not retaliate. Their technological foundation was completel... Read More

The Shelters of Stone: Rehash and filler

The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel

I suspect that Jean M. Auel disappointed quite a few readers with The Shelters of Stone, the fifth book her EARTH'S CHILDREN series. It appeared 12 years after The Plains of Passage and does little other than repeating all that has gone before. While I didn't think it was as dreadful as the final book, The Land of Painted Caves, it's most certainly not the highlight of my reading year.

After a year long trek across Europe, Alya and Jondalar finally arrive at the home of his people, where they plan to mate and settle. Ayla is apprehensive about meeting his people. She worries they may not accept her and wonders if it was a mistake to leave the Mamutoi who have adopted her. She quickly finds her place among the Zelandonii though. Her unusual background and talents gain her the attention of Zelandonii, the... Read More

The Plains of Passage: An epic journey

The Plains of Passage by Jeane M. Auel

The literary quality of Auel's The Valley of the Horses and The Mammoth Hunters, the second and third volume in her EARTH'S CHILDREN series, left something to be desired to put it mildly, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue this series of reviews. I've always had a soft spot for The Plains of Passage, the fourth volume, and since I recently came across an English language version (this is one of the few novels I've read both in English and Dutch translation) I decided to go ahead and reread it. My recent read of Kim Stanley Robinson's Shaman may also have something to do with it. The novels share a setting during the ice age, if little else.

After a difficult year among the Mamutoi, the Mamm... Read More

Alien Earth: A magnificent science fiction tale

Alien Earth by Megan Lindholm

Megan Lindholm is perhaps better known under her pseudonym Robin Hobb. Since the appearance of Assassin's Apprentice in 1995, her work set in the Realm of the Elderlings has gained her a wide popularity among fans of epic fantasy. Before the emergence of Hobb, Lindholm had already published ten other novels. A lot of these are out of print these days and that is a shame; the seven I’ve read so far are more than worth reading. It should be noted that Lindholm had a good reason to adopt another pen name. While the Robin Hobb books tend to be more traditional epic fantasy, Lindholm's work also includes urban fantasy to books that border on historical fiction and, in the case of Alien Earth, even science fiction. It's hard to pin down the difference in style, but Lindholm's writing has often been described as grittier. Liking Robin... Read More

Wizard of the Pigeons: A novel with many layers

Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm

Wizard of the Pigeons is one of the last books Megan Lindholm wrote under this pen name, before moving on to her Robin Hobb alter ego. Once again I am impressed with the diversity of Lindholm's writing; Wizard of the Pigeons is unlike any of the others I've read. I guess you could call it an urban fantasy before the werewolf boyfriends took over, or maybe magical realism would fit better. It is a very good book, whichever genre label you prefer.

For those who can see it, Seattle, the Emerald City, is a place of magic. Living by his own rules, Wizard makes a living on what opportunities the city offers. He has elevated scavenging to an art and appears comfortable in his life as Wizard. Soon it becomes clear that all is not well in Seattle, however. A ghost form Wizard'... Read More

The Green Brain: Does not achieve the desired result

The Green Brain by Frank Herbert

The Green Brain is one of the novels that Frank Herbert published following the release of Dune. It was first published as a novelette under the title Greenslaves in Amazing Stories in 1965. Apparently the title is a reference to the English folk song Greensleeves. It was released as a novel by Ace Books in 1966. My copy is one in a series of four Frank Herbert titles reissued by Tor in 2002, to coincide with the release of The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. I read The Green Brain shortly after this publication became available and I think it is the only Frank Herbert book I didn't like when I first read it. This second re... Read More

The Ammonite Violin and Others: Beautiful dark stories

The Ammonite Violin and Others by Caitlín R. Kiernan

A while ago, I bought a number of books in a Subteranean Press clearance sale. Eleven books with a huge discount, but I didn't know what I would be getting. As it happened, the package contained a lot of short fiction collections, mostly of authors whose work I'm not too familiar with. The Ammonite Violin and Others by Caitlín R. Kiernan was one of these. Kiernan was completely new to me, but The Ammonite Violin and Others turned out to be a beautifully written collection of very dark short stories.

The collection contains 20 short stories as well as an introduction by Jeff VanderMeer (which, unless you have previous experience with Kiernan's writing, I recommend you read after finishing the stories; he lost me halfway through... Read More

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