Monthly Archives: November 2012

#CBR4 Maneuver #44 – The Falling Machine

Target: Andrew P. Mayer’s The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam #1)

Profile: Steampunk, Superhero Fiction

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “In 1880 women aren’t allowed to vote, much less dress up in a costume and fight crime…

But twenty-year-old socialite Sarah Stanton still dreams of becoming a hero. Her opportunity arrives in tragedy when the leader of the Society of Paragons, New York’s greatest team of gentlemen adventurers, is murdered right before her eyes. To uncover the truth behind the assassination, Sarah joins forces with the amazing mechanical man known as The Automaton. Together they unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the Paragons that reveals the world of heroes and high-society is built on a crumbling foundation of greed and lies. When Sarah comes face to face with the megalomaniacal villain behind the murder, she must discover if she has the courage to sacrifice her life of privilege and save her clockwork friend.

The Falling Machine takes place in a Victorian New York powered by the discovery of Fortified Steam, a substance that allows ordinary men to wield extraordinary abilities, and grant powers that can corrupt gentlemen of great moral strength. The secret behind this amazing substance is something that wicked brutes will gladly kill for and one that Sarah must try and protect, no matter what the cost.”

After Action Report:

Confession time.  I accidentally left my Kindle at home over the Thanksgiving vacation and was forced to pick up some reading material in the airport.  I wasn’t super excited about The Falling Machine, but it had a pretty cover.  And I was in a hurry.  Publishers, take note.

There is very little of substance to Falling Machine.  It is a wannabe comic book that draws so heavily on its inspiration that there isn’t much left for the reader to discover.  If you’re at all familiar with the steampunk genre, or the plot of Watchmen, you’re already covered most of the territory.  What fills in the gaps is bland but inoffensive writing.  On the plus side, there’s not much in the way of technobabble, but the science is so flimsy it might as well be a fantasy.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #43 – The Evolutionary Void

Target: Peter F. Hamilton’s The Evolutionary Void

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Science Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “Exposed as the Second Dreamer, Araminta has become the target of a galaxywide search by others equally determined to prevent – or facilitate – the pilgrimage into the Void.  An indestructible microuniverse, the Void may contain paradise, but it is also a deadly threat.  For the reality that exists inside its boundaries demands energy drawn from planets, stars, galaxies – from everything that lives.

Meanwhile, the story of Edeard, the Waterwalker, continues to unfold.  With time running out, Inigo, the first Dreamer, must decide whether to release Edeard’s dangerous final dream.  And Araminta must choose whether to run from her responsibilities or face them down, with no guarantee of success or survival.  But all these choices may be for naught if the leader of a rival faction enters the Void.  For it is not paradise she seeks there, but domination. ”

After Action Report:

Okay, I’m not sure if I wasn’t paying attention to book two, but The Evolutionary Void definitely jumped the tracks a bit and careened off into the nebulous science fantasy genre.  Not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with science fantasy, but the effect is sort of like going to a Star Trek convention, passing out on the last day and waking up to the cosplay contest of an anime con.  Not unpleasant per se, but definitely disconcerting.

Where book two, The Temporal Void, was mostly about the events within the Void, and by extension Edeard’s story, book three takes us back outside to resolve the ongoing problem of the Living Dream pilgrimage.  The majority of the narrative is spent picking up plot threads from the first book that were left withering to make room for the copious number of dream chapters in book two.  I should note that I started Evolutionary Void almost two full years after reading the first two books, and spent a substantial amount of time trying to remember who the hell everyone was with mixed success.  Most of the protagonist groups have finally aligned against the forces of the Living Dream or the Accelerator Faction, but haven’t necessarily teamed up.  All that aligning means less in the way of Ludlum-esque chases and more pseudo-scientific technobabble along with a fair portion of posthumanist philosophy.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #42 – Metaplanetary

Target: Tony Daniel’s Metaplanetary

Profile: Science Fiction, Science Fantasy

Summary: Taken from goodreads.com, “The human race has extended itself into the far reaches of our solar system — and, in doing so, has developed into something remarkable. The inner system of the Met — with its worlds connected by a vast living network of cables — is supported by the repression and enslavement of humanity’s progeny, nanotechnological artificial intelligences whom the tyrant Amés has declared non-human.

But the longing for freedom cannot be denied. And now a line has been drawn at Neptune’s moon Triton, where those who oppose Amés and his fearsome minions await the foretold return of a mysterious man of destiny and doom who has vanished into the backwater of the Met. But resistance will only ensure the unspeakable onslaught of the dictator’s wrath — a rage that will soon ravage the solar system and plunge all of humankind into the fury of total war.”

After Action Report:

Metaplanetary and I have a bit of an odd history.  I picked up a copy of the paperback in a tiny bookstore in Acadia National Park back in 2002.  After reading the whole thing in basically two days, I desperately wanted to find the sequel, with the rear cover promised had come out already.  Of course it hadn’t and it would be another there years before Superluminal would see the light of day, and in the meantime I forgot about the whole thing.  Going back to Metaplanetary hasn’t quite lived up to my expectations, but the book is still a solid piece of soft science fiction/science fantasy with one of the most interesting core concepts I’ve come across.

Metaplanetary attempts to be told as a pseudo-scholarly war record assembled by an off-screen narrator.  The chapters progress through the events leading up to a war between the Inner and Outer solar system regions, with each chapter containing the personal recollections of various involved individuals.  These narratives are punctuated by scholarly documents attributed to various in-universe authors, describing the history, politics and technology of the setting.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #41 – The Alloy of Law

Target: Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law (Mistborn #4/ex)

Profile: Fantasy, Western, Steampunk

Summary: Taken from goodreads.com, “Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice.

One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.”

After Action Report:

Waxillium is a stupid name.  Okay, so you wanted to call your protagonist Wax.  Fine.  There are better ways to get there.  Ways that don’t leave the guy sounding like a posh hair-removal process.  Uh… where was I?

I’m developing problems with Brandon Sanderson.  Yes, I really enjoyed The Way of Kings and the first two Mistborn books, but The Hero of Ages left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.  The biggest problem was that Sanderson had padded out the last book with reused scenes from the first two, and spent more time re-telling the history of the world he had built than he spent moving the story forward.  Now with his fourth Mistborn book, one separated from its predecessors by three hundred years and a canonical world reboot, Sanderson is STILL using the same damn ballroom scenes!

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Travel Delays

I was supposed to have written today’s anime review last Friday while I was in Chicago, but a flight got canceled and the six hours I had there turned into six really unproductive hours in the Denver airport without access to a Torrent client.  So that’s been delayed.  Probably to next week, as I’m spending the next few days in Texas for Thanksgiving.

CBR 41 is probably going to go up sometime tonight though.  If that’s something you care about.

#CBR4 Maneuver #40 – Memories of Ice

Target: Steven Erikson’s Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen #3)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the Malazan Wikia, “The ravaged continent of Genabackis has given birth to a terrifying new empire: the Pannion Domin. Like a fanatical tide of corrupted blood, it seethes across the land, devouring all who fail to heed the Word of its elusive prophet, the Pannion Seer. In its path stands an uneasy alliance: Dujek Onearm’s Host and the Bridgeburners – each now outlawed by the Empress – alongside their enemies of old including the grim forces of Warlord Caladan Brood, Anomander Rake, Son of Darkness, and his Tiste Andii, and the Rhivi people of the Plains. But more ancient clans too are gathering. As if in answer to some primal summons, the massed ranks of the undead T’lan Imass have risen. For it would seem something altogether darker and more malign threatens the very substance of this world. The Warrens are poisoned and rumours abound of the Crippled God, now unchained and intent on a terrible revenge…”

After Action Report:

I really shouldn’t have started the Malazan Book of the Fallen.  Every book sets me another two weeks behind my reading quota and now I’m in a situation where I have to read 10 books in 6 weeks.  It’s not just that the books are long, though they are.  It’s the nearly insane level of detail that Erikson puts into every single protagonist.  Where Neil Stephenson fills with exposition, Erikson stuffs to the brim with personal narrative.  I do really enjoy the level of detail that he puts into all of these fascinating characters, but it takes me forever to work through the chapters and gods help me if I try to read before bed.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #39 – The Hydrogen Sonata

Target: Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Expanded Continuity

Summary: From goodreads.com, “It is, truly, provably, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization.

An ancient people, they helped set up the Culture ten thousand years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they’ve made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations; they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.

Amidst preparations though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted – dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossont must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command – find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand years old, who might have some idea what really happened all that time ago. Cossont must discover the truth before she’s exiled from her people and her civilization forever – or just plain killed.”

After Action Report:

Having reviewed more than half of Banks’ excellent Culture novels, I’m getting to a point where I’ve run out of things to say.  The Hydrogen Sonata continues the series’ exploration of the galactic metacivilization called the Culture with the same strong storytelling and eye for humor.  The themes Banks is exploring are natural extensions of those we found in Look to Windward and Excession.  Of course, the problem with consistency, even good consistency, is that it is boring to read about.

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LAB Notes #3 – Scrapped Princess

Target: Scrapped Princess
Studio: BONES
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Notable Themes: Mystery, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
Episodes: 24
Fanservice Level: Average

Reasons to Watch:
A mysterious story that transcends genre
Broad appeal without sacrificing substance

Reasons to Not:
Main characters are somewhat one dimensional

Similar to: Turn-A Gundam, Last Exile, Avatar: The Last Airbender

Review:
It kind of baffles me that Scrapped Princess doesn’t get mentioned more often.  The series is a nearly perfect example of how anime can tell interesting stories that would do well on U.S. television.  It has action, mystery, comedy, drama, cool concepts, and solid characters.  Combine that with the above average production values and decent dubbing and I just don’t understand why this wasn’t picked up by some U.S. network during the anime boom in the late Nineties and early ‘Aughts.  Regardless, Scrapped Princess is one of those rare series that has something for everyone and doesn’t really compromise to get it all packed in.

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