#CBR7 Review #3-4 – Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Justice

Target: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) and Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

The Imperial Radch series is a relatively simple little space opera, in the classic sense of the term.  Spanning hundreds, if not thousands of years, multiple star systems and a variety of cultural influences, it’s a series firmly rooted in the tropes of its genre.  While Ancillary Justice does wonderful things with those ideas and concepts, building a surprisingly compelling setting and cast, the series as a whole is somewhat underwhelming.  Lacking the bombast of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse or the vision of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space, Imperial Radch sits in an uncomfortable place between top-tier SF and the middle of the road dross that clogs the shelves at Barnes and Noble.

Ancillary Justice follows Breq, also known as Justice of Toren, One Esk, a surviving fragment of the controlling AI of an interstellar warship.  A portion of Justice examines Breq’s life as the ship Justice of Toren before it was destroyed, while the main narrative picks up after Breq has been on her own for years, executing a long plan that might make up for some of the mistakes she made as Justice of Toren.  The PoV snaps back and forth between the present and the past until we witness the moment of Justice of Toren’s destruction.  After which we shift entirely to Breq on her mission of justice and vengeance.

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#CBR7 Review #2 – Cairo

CairoTarget: G. Willow Wilson’s Cairo.  Art by M.K. Perker

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Urban, Middle Eastern, Graphic Novel

After Action Report:

Cairo is, in many ways, a prototype for G. Willow Wilson’s later novel, Alif the Unseen.  They are stories of clashing cultures. Both the complex internal clash between Islamic hardliners and the culturally diverse youth of the Middle East, and the more external, if no less complex conflict between encroaching western culture and the entrenched lifestyles of Muslims.  By necessity, Cairo is more spare, crashing through a much simpler plot at breakneck pace, but it manages to hit the same powerful notes that Alif does.

The comic starts as the story of Ashraf, an Egyptian drug smuggler who makes regular runs across the border into Israel.  On one such run, he wrecks his car on a stoned camel (exactly as funny as it sounds), loses his shipment and ends up stealing a hookah from his employer to make some fast cash.  But the hookah is home to a jinn, Shams, a beneficent creature who owns a box that could give control of the entire Middle East to anyone who possesses it.

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#CBR7 Review #1 – Ready Player One

Ready Player OneTarget: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One

Profile: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Pop Culture, Adventure!

After Action Report:

Ready Player One is one of those books that’s been sitting on the shelves at Barnes and Nobel taunting me with nearly universal acclaim for longer than I care to think about.  Not only that, but it falls clearly into my ‘near future, speculative fiction’ bailiwick and even focuses on video game culture, so I really have no excuse as to why I’m only just now adding it to my library.  And that’s a shame, because it really is quite good.

Any returning readers will recall that I intensely dislike reading books with good press or recommendations, mostly because it means that I’m suddenly holding the author (and the book) to much higher standards than are reasonable, but also because it messes with the way that I think about writing these reviews.  I feel pressure to generate ‘original’ criticism, which puts my tendency to nitpick into overdrive.

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#CBR6 Review #25 – Lexicon


Target: Max Barry’s Lexicon

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Thriller

After Action Report:

As I have written before, I find book recommendations to be more annoying than useful (which raises some interesting questions about why I write book reviews).  There are so many variables involved in what makes any given book appealing to a given person that, without a history of literary compatibility, it is almost impossible guarantee that any two people will like the same book.  Still, every so often I’ll follow up on a recommendation or a particularly good review from a source that I like and it won’t disappoint me.  Lexicon not only did not disappoint, it wildly exceeded my expectations.

Lexicon takes place in a world where “Poets” have been the real power hidden in the shadow of history.  These individuals, possessed of extraordinary willpower and a set of linguistic tools, are able to command people by speaking a few key words that bypass our conscious minds and force us to obey.  The idea on its own is fascinating, drawing on shades of Neal Stephenson’s secret histories and J.K. Rowling’s ‘school for special people’ concept.

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#CBR6 Review #24 – New Watch

New WatchTarget: Sergei Lukyanenko’s New Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #5)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror

After Action Report:

Sergei Lukyanenko ostensibly drew his Watches series to a conclusion with Last Watch, but almost six years later he released a fifth book.  New Watch is a very different kind of novel than its predecessors.  It draws inspiration from other contemporary and urban fantasies, most notably the Harry Potter series.  There is a greater emphasis on the mechanics of the world’s magic system, answering some questions from previous novels, but shifting the tone of the series away from the cerebral contemplation of the battle between good and evil, towards a more action-oriented adventure.  Some of Lukyanenko’s trademark musings remain, but New Watch is clearly written for a slightly different, more global audience than the rest of the pentalogy.

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#CBR6 Review #23 – A.D.D.

A.D.D.Target: Douglas Rushkoff’s A.D.D. Adolescent Demo Division. Art by Goran Sudžuka and José Marzán Jr.

Profile: Comics, Media Criticism, Science Fiction

After Action Report:

For those of you who don’t know, Denver is home to the largest single comic book store in the world.  I didn’t know this either until a few months ago when a friend of mine blew into town from Boston and we went.  The warehouse used to be a clearing house for cross-country comic shipping and at some point Mile High Comics claimed it, along with the considerable overstock and turned it into 45,000 square feet of comic book nerd wet dream.  While we were there, I found myself drooling over collector’s editions of Chew omnibus volumes and an essential guide to the Top Cow universe, but the only thing I walked out with was this quirky little Vertigo title.  At the register, the clerk on duty looked the hardcover volume over and gave me an audible “Huh,” which pretty much sums up my experience with the book.

Set in the near future, A.D.D. follows Lionel, a top tier gamer who is part of an unusual reality show/experiment.  Raised from birth to play games, test technology and generally be archetypal internet brats, these kids enjoy a life of luxury and media saturation, and in return act as mascots for their corporate owners.  For Lionel and his friends, it seems like paradise, but Lionel still has questions: what happens when they ‘graduate?’  And why can he ‘see’ things no one else can?

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#CBR6 Review #22 – Last Watch

Last Watch

Target: Sergei Lukyanenko’s Last Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #4)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Urban Fantasy

After Action Report:

So, I spent a really unreasonable amount of time waiting for and then looking for the Harper paperback release of Last Watch.  I waited so long that the fifth book in the series was published stateside and my copy actually started to gather dust on my shelf.  Eventually I contacted Harper Collins which prompted a very curt autoreply informing me that they didn’t have the publication rights.  Although the Random House imprint they directed me to doesn’t seem to have the U.S. rights either, so…

Last Watch is the conclusion of all the storylines explored by The Watches books so far.  Mysteries are solved, questions are answered, and actions are (somewhat) justified.  The stakes are higher than ever, with friends pitted against each other and alliances formed from the most unlikely combinations.  Through it all, Lukyanenko maintains his cerebral approach to storytelling, blending action, tension and philosophical exploration almost seamlessly and reminding us that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are rarely the simple constructs we assume them to be.

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#CBR6 Review #21: Count to a Trillion

Count to a TrillionTarget: John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion. (Count to Eschaton Sequence #1)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

Count to a Trillion is a strange sort of novel.  It seems primarily dedicated to avoiding any kind of resolution to any of the narratives it establishes and finding other literary ways to annoy me.  Poor characterization, egregious technobabble and obnoxious timeskips are just a few of the book’s many sins.  And yet, there is an interesting and ambitious concept at its core.  Ultimately, I think the novel falls short of its goals, but it takes us on what could be the start of an intriguing ride.

Count to a Trillion opens an unspecified amount of time in the future. The Earth has been ravaged by non-nuclear global war and racial strife. These events have left the Indosphere and Hispanosphere in control of much of the world.  Born in the relative backwater of the southern United States, Menelaus Illation Montrose grows up as a judicial gun-for-hire, but hides a unique secret: a phenomenal gift for higher mathematics.  Pressganged into an once-in-a-lifetime expedition to examine an alien artifact orbiting a tantalizing source of free energy, Menelaus subjects himself to an experimental procedure designed to artificially enhance his brain to a posthuman level.  The process drives him insane.

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#CBR6 Review #20: Dial H, Vol. 2

Dial H 2Target: China Miéville’s Dial H, Vol. 2: Exchange. Art by Alberto Ponticelli, David Lapham and Dan Green.  Collecting issues #7-15 and Justice League issue #23.3

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy

After Action Report:

When last we left Dial H, Miéville was busy adding weird fiction and horror tropes to a little known corner of the DC Universe.  The events of the last volume have raised the stakes and opened the door to a multiverse of possibilities.  Unfortunately, while Dial H was an incredible critical success, its sales numbers left something to be desired and DC ended the run at issue 16.  True to form, Miéville seems to treat the cancelation as a challenge and crashes through two storylines to bring readers a climax worthy of this creative adventure, and a thoughtful coda that hints that we might not have seen the last of the Dialers.

Issue #7 picks up a few weeks after Nelson’s fight with the villain Ex Nihlio and her pet Abyss.  In light of the new threat of the Shadow on the Line, Nelson and his new partner Roxie, set off to uncover more secrets of the dials.  But their leisurely globetrotting quickly turns scary as they catch the eye of a Canadian super-agent who knows more about what they are than they do.

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#CBR6 Review #19: A Drifting Life

A Drifting LifeTarget: Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life.  Translated by Taro Nettleton.  English design and lettering by Adrian Tomine.

Profile: Autobiography, Manga, Graphic Novel

After Action Report:

A Drifting Life is a wonderfully thick tome of a graphic novel.  Equal parts autobiography, national history and understated drama; the book chronicles the story of one of the founding fathers of Japanese Manga.  The style pioneered by Yoshihiro Tatsumi was one of the first attempts to turn cartoons into a medium for serious works.  Appropriately, his story is a serious one, touching on the themes of artistic integrity and the struggles of living in postwar Japan.  It is an exquisite novel, and only feels unfocused because that’s how life sometimes is.

While A Drifting Life is an autobiography, Tatsumi authored the book as if it were about someone else.  His fictional stand in, Hiroshi Katsumi, is the central protagonist, and a brief editor’s note remarks that a number of other names have been changed.  The book picks up at the end of World War II with the surrender of Emperor Hirohito.  Hiroshi is ten and has already developed a love of Manga and drawing.  Along with his brother, Oki, Hiroshi starts on the path of a Manga-ka, submitting amateur comic strips to various publishing houses.  To his surprise, he is published.

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