#CBR6 Review #18: Ship Breaker

Ship BreakerTarget: Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker #1)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

After Action Report:

There is a gritty reality to Paolo Bacigalupi’s work.  A grim straightforwardness that crushes the optimism older SF styles.  On its own, this same honesty produces brilliantly brutal speculative fiction, like Windup Girl.  But there is a necessary optimism to Young Adult literature that is at odds with Bacigalupi’s tone.  Ship Breaker lives in artificial space between two styles, carving out its own literary niche, but at the same time feeling discordant and incomplete.  And yet, it is a technically excellent novel that I really did enjoy.

Like many of Bacigalupi’s stories, Ship Breaker deals with a post-industrial crisis world.  Climate changes has melted the ice caps and destroyed much of costal civilization.  Technology and wealth have concentrated even further and the average person lives at the whim of a few mega-corporations that dominate the world.  Nailer and his crew are child laborers who scrape a living from salvaging the wrecks of cargo ships from the old era.  When the ship of a wealthy heiress crashes into their lives, Nailer jumps at the opportunity to escape his dead-end situation, only to get caught up in an international power struggle.

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#CBR6 Review #17: Antiagon Fire

Antiagon FireTarget: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Antiagon Fire (Imager Portfolio #7)

Profile: Fantasy, Political Fiction, Military

After Action Report:

Two things struck me as I was preparing for this review:  First, I somehow managed to skip Imager’s Battalion during my utter failure of a Cannonball Read 5.  I read the book, but I never got a review up.  Second, I think I ran out of useful things to say about the series back at book five.  The things that I liked are still good, and the elements that are weaker don’t seem to be improving.  If anything, the series’ increasing focus on military action reduces the immediacy of Quaeryt’s story and undermines the relationship readers have been building over the course of the last three books.  While the increased presence of Quaeryt’s wife, Vaelora, is a welcome and well executed addition, more and more Quaeryt feels like a background character in his own story.

To fill in some blanks, Imager’s Battalion took Quaeryt from the world of politics into the military, placing him in command of the first squad of Imagers ever used in true military service.  Charged with the invasion of the hostile nation of Bovaria, Quaeryt and the army he accompanies face down an escalating series of challenges while balancing the need to subjugate with the desire to be fair to the citizens they encounter.  Antiagon Fire follows much in the same vein, as a newly promoted Quaeryt is sent as an envoy to the people of Khel in an attempt to prevent further war.  Along the way, he is attacked by forces from the 3rd remaining nation, Antiago, prompting another conflict.

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#CBR6 Review #16: The Waking Engine

The Waking EngineTarget: David Edison’s The Waking Engine

Profile: Weird Fantasy

After Action Report:

There is point during the creative process when too many ideas can be as bad as too few.  I’m personally a very poor judge of where that limit is, but The Waking Engine is firmly on the wrong side of it.  Some of the book’s core concepts are interesting and fresh, but they are buried under layers of borrowed imagery, and symbolism stolen from across the width and breadth of fantasy and science fiction.  The only thing I took away was a deeper appreciation for the authors who make genre mashups look easy.

The Waking Engine is the story of Cooper, a young man who is flung across a multiverse and wakes up in home of true death, the City Unspoken.  Like a twisted version of Hindu reincarnation, people who die in this setting wake up moments later as themselves on a different world.  Eventually, this process leads everyone to the City, where their weary souls might finally find eternal rest.  Only, no one’s dying.  The City Unspoken is failing and Cooper may have to be the one to put everything right again.

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#CBR6 Review #14-15 – Saga Vol. 2-3

Saga 2Target: Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga.  Art by Fiona Staples.  Collecting issues 7-18

Profile: Comics, Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

It’s been too long, but I’m finally getting around to reviewing Saga Volume 2 and, as a limited time bonus offer, you get Volume 3 thrown in for free.  Back when I first picked up this epic comic series, I noted that the one flaw holding it back was the lack of focus and development.  To quote myself, “While many of the details needed for true long-term success are still missing, Saga tantalizes with an incredible spread of fantastic ideas and well-drawn characters.”  Vaughan has done a lot to build a cohesive story from the flighty bits of Volume 1.  The pacing and, more importantly, unfocused nature of the comic are still getting in the way of strong narrative flow, but Saga somehow transcends these limitations and is building a beautifully cohesive world out of the narrative equivalent of confetti.

After the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 6, Volume 2 disjoints briefly from the narrative of Marko and Alana to take time for some flashbacks.  We look at Marko’s youth, Alana’s time as a solider and their joint experiences as prisoner and guard that preceded the events of Volume 1.  We also meet a whole gaggle of characters from Marko’s past and pick up some of the threads from The Will’s side story.

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#CBR6 Review #13 – The Incrementalists

The IncrementalistsTarget: Steven Brust and Skyler White’s The Incrementalists

Profile: Speculative Fiction

After Action Report:

As a concept, The Incrementalists is a pretty impressive pitch.  A secret society of quasi-immortal do-gooders dedicated to the slow improvement of mankind suddenly threatened by one of their own sounds like a great, high concept blockbuster.  But The Incrementalists can’t seem to decide if it’s supposed to be more like ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ or ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ and flounders unpleasantly somewhere between the two.  There are a lot of good ideas here, but the novel feels undirected at best and a confused mess at worst.

The book opens after the death of Celeste, a senior member of the Incrementalists.  Phil, her lover and fellow senior Incrementalist, is tasked with finding her replacement and initiating her.  This process involves transferring the memories of Celeste, and all of the other people who Celeste has been, into a new person.  This new person is Renee, called Ren.  But something goes wrong in the process and now ‘Celeste’ is missing and Ren is losing her mind.  It falls to Phil and Ren to get to the root of the problem before it unravels the Incrementalists for good.

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#CBR6 Review #12 – Un Lun Dun

Un Lun DunTarget: China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun

Profile: Young Adult, Fantasy, Weird Fantasy

After Action Report:

‘China Miéville’ and ‘children’s book’ are not, at first glance, two things that would appear to mesh.  Miéville, who I have described in previous reviews as being macabre, dense and sometimes overwhelmingly complicated (in an enjoyable way), is hardly the first person I’d pick to write a book for older kids and young adults.  Nevertheless, Un Lun Dun is a triumphant piece of fiction.  It taps into the fundamental truths of adventure stories, uses them where appropriate and turns them on their head when necessary.  Miéville’s singular ability to deconstruct genre and trope help create an earnest adventure for those of us who were never singled out for greatness.

Un Lun Dun follows two London girls, Zanna and Deeba who stumble onto a pathway into UnLondon, an abcity behind and beyond London proper.  Suddenly dropped into a world of magic, animate garbage, carnivorous giraffes and a never ending parade of strange sights, the girls are desperate to find their way back home.  But Zanna is the subject of an ancient prophesy.  Called ‘The Shwazzy,’ she is destined to save UnLondon from the malicious cloud of toxins known as the Smog.

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#CBR6 Review #11 – Super Graphic

Super GraphicTarget: Tim Leong’s Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe

Profile: Comics!, Non-fiction?

After Action Report:

Super Graphic is an aggregation of information.  A sequence of colorful graphs, diagrams and charts that serve up a dizzying variety of information about comic books, the worlds they contain and the industry that produces them.  It isn’t so much a book to be read cover to cover as it is an adventure, every page turn revealing something new and delightful.  That is, if you’re a comic book nerd.  Which is not to say that Super Graphic can’t be appreciated by a lay person.  The data is Marvelously (tee hee) accessible and easy to digest, assisted by the tight focus of every page and the slightly-more-than-occasional joke that helps alleviate the march of trivia.

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#CBR6 Review #10 – Twilight Watch

Twilight WatchTarget: Sergei Lukyanenko’s Twilight Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #3)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror

After Action Report:

Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watches books have utterly captivated me.  The moody atmosphere and strong characterization drive an uncompromising examination of good and evil.  Oh, and the story isn’t bad either.  Where Day Watch acted as the natural extension of Night Watch, exploring some of the same material from the perspective of Darkness, Twilight Watch almost starts from scratch with a new, overriding storyline that runs through all three sections of the book.  While the vignettes that compose all of the Watches books have never felt truly disconnected, there is a more immediate sense of continuity at work in Twilight Watch that lends urgency to the unfolding events.

Twilight Watch rejoins Night Watchman Anton years after the events in Prague at the end of Day Watch.  He’s settled down with Svetlana and had a daughter, Nadya, who is already starting to show her strong potential as an Other.  Anton is recalled early from one of his rare vacations at the behest of Gesar to investigate a troubling letter.  The anonymous author claims that someone has offered a human the opportunity to become an Other, and not just a low level vampire or werewolf, but a full-fledged magician.  Both the Night and Day Watches believe this to be impossible, but are concerned that someone has revealed the existence of the supernatural to a human.  Anton goes undercover to identify the human in question and attempt to catch the unknown Other in the act, but as always, things are more complicated than they appear. What starts to unfold is a shadowy power play that reaches back all the way to the Russian Revolution.  The stakes are high for both Watches and the Inquisition, as they clash over the awakening of a powerful witch, the terrible secret of magical power and the ultimate fate of the Others.

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#CBR6 Review #9 – Words of Radiance

Words of RadianceTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive #2)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

After Action Report:

After a seemingly interminable four years of waiting for Brandon Sanderson to wash his hands of the Wheel of Time, it is finally time to return to the series that got me hooked on Sanderson in the first place, The Stormlight Archive.  The Way of Kings was a great novel that suffered most from being little more than a prologue to the rest of the series.  But now the real story can begin.

Words of Radiance returns us to the world of Roshar, picking up almost exactly where The Way of Kings left off.  The four main protagonists have been carried over, though Shallan has a much larger role in this book, and Szeth has fewer chapters.  The events of Way of Kings have brought all the major players to the Shattered Plains where the Alethi campaign against the Parshendi is drawing to a close.  At the same time, signs and portents of a great calamity begin to appear around Dalinar and Kaladin.  Time is running out, the Alethi are on the brink of a civil war and the Assassin in White has returned to kill the last great leader in the east.

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#CBR6 Review #8 – Day Watch

Day WatchTarget: Sergei Lukyanenko’s Day Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #2)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror

After Action Report:

Day Watch is a strong successor to the gritty, twilight world that Sergei Lukyanenko introduced us to in Night Watch.  After exploring the moral dilemmas facing a ‘good’ person trying to maintain a status quo that is anything but good, Lukyanenko shifts his focus to take a look at the bad guys.  That being said, Day Watch isn’t as strong overall as its prequel, partly because the Dark Others aren’t faced with the same quandaries as the Light.  Lukyanenko’s strengths lie in those internal debates and without them the stories have less weight.

Like Night Watch, Day Watch is composed of three separate but interconnected stories.  The first deals with a recurring character from the first book, Alisa Donnikova, a mid-level witch with the Day Watch.  Alisa is sent to a summer camp to recover her powers after a strenuous conflict with the Night Watch.  There, without her powers, she starts to fall in love with a human, putting strain on her identity as a callous Dark Other.  The second story shifts to an unknown Dark Magician named Vitaly Rogoza.  He has no memory of his past, but is rapidly awakening to tremendous dark power and a purpose he doesn’t understand.  The final story takes us back to Anton, the Night Watchman from the first book, and his counterpart in the Day Watch, a wizard named Edgar, as they travel to Prague to face a tribunal of the Inquisition.

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