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.

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 by George R.R. Martin (editor)

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 are referred to as Jokers ... Read More

Jokers Wild: Fast and fun and hard to put down

Jokers Wild edited by George R.R. Martin

Jokers Wild is the third volume in the long-running WILD CARDS series edited by George R.R. Martin. These books are written by a writer's collective in a style that they refer to as mosaic. Most of the books are written by a group of writers, and Martin (increasingly assisted by Melinda M. Snodgrass) edits them into one story. The series has gone though several changes in publisher but, partially carried by the success of Martin himself in recent years, seems to be going strong at the moment. This third volume was first published in 1987 and features contributions by Leanne C. Harper, Lewis Shiner, John J. Miller, Edward Bryant, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Walton Simons and George R.R. Martin himself.
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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

Young Flandry: Three novels about Flandry’s younger years

Young Flandry by Poul Anderson

Young Flandry is part four in Baen's project to publish all of Anderson's work in the Technic Civilization in chronological order. The cover of this book is so hideous that I almost gave up on this project. After reading the first three, none of which were graced by particularly good cover art, I thought it would be a shame to give up now though. In part three, Rise of the Terran Empire, we witnessed the last adventures of Nicolas van Rijn and David Falkayn, marking the end of the Polesotechnic league era of Anderson's future history. We also see humanity slip into a dark age and witness the rise of the Terran Empire. Most of the remaining stories in the Technic civilization is set In this Terran Empire phase of history. As the title of the book suggests, a new hero enters the stage. Dominic Flandry.

Young Flandry contains ... Read More

Rise of the Terran Empire: Transitions from the Commonwealth to the Empire

Rise of the Terran Empire by Poul Anderson

Rise of the Terran Empire is the third in a series of seven books collecting all of Poul Anderson's writings in the Technic civilization setting. The stories are presented by internal chronology and in this book we have reached the boundary between the two eras Anderson set most of these stories in: the time of the Polesotechnic league (Nicolas van Rijn and David Falkayn) and the era of the Terran Empire (Dominic Flandry). The previous two books contained quite a few pieces of short fiction but this third tome includes two full novels with room left over for four shorter works. One of these, “Sargasso of Lost Starships,” originally published in Planet Stories, appears for the first time in book form, so if you are a completist this is a must have.

The collection opens with the 1977 novel Mirkheim. It features both Falkayn an... Read More

David Falkayn: Star Trader: The merchant adventures continue

David Falkayn: Star Trader by Poul Anderson

David Falkayn: Star Trader is the second in a series of seven books collecting the writings of Anderson in his Technic Civilization universe. Publisher Bean decided to publish them in order of internal chronology, which is not the order in which they were written. In the first instalment, The van Rijn Method, we see humanity's first exploration of the universe, the origins of the Technic Civilization and the formation of the Polesotechnic League, a mercantile organisation that soon acquires vast fortunes and political influence beyond that of a mere government. In this book the Polesotechnic League is at the height of its power. The seven works collected in this volume mostly deal with the exploits of members of the league. Most notably Nicholas van Rijn and David Falkyan.

“Territory” (1961), the opening story of the collection, set... Read More

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

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