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#CBR4 Maneuver #45-54 – The Great Book of Amber

Amber

Target: Roger Zelazny’s The Great Book of Amber (Amber Chronicles #1-10)

Profile: Epic Fantasy, Modern Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “Roger Zelazny’s chronicles of Amber have earned their place as all-time classics of imaginative literature.  Now, here are all ten novels, together in one omnibus volume.  Witness the titanic battle for supremacy waged on Earth, in the Courts of Chaos, and on a magical world of mystery, adventure and romance. ”

After Action Report:

Where have you been hiding you ask?  No posts for two weeks?  Nothing to report?  Well here’s your answer.  I was reading all 7000+ pages of Homestuck.  Well, that was one week.  The other week was spent devouring the 1200+ page omnibus of the Chronicles of Amber.  It was actually the webcomic that prompted reading Amber top to bottom again.  The two projects have a lot in common: an expansive multiverse, complex time travel shenanigans, protagonists tied to classic fortunetelling tropes.  And they’re both more than a little confusing in the end.

The Chronicles of Amber span ten books in five book sets.  The first five books deal with Corwin, exiled prince of Amber, and the second five tell the story of Merlin, Corwin’s son and scion of the combined houses of Amber and Chaos.  I am going to segment the review a bit because the two stories are very different from one another.  Corwin’s books feel like a classical fantasy, with some interesting modern elements added for shenanigans sake.  Merlin’s is much more a coming of age story combined with some deep metaphysical conflicts.

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#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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#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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#CBR4 Maneuver #38 – Scholar

Target: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Scholar (Imager Portfolio #4)

Profile: Fantasy, Political Fiction

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “Hundreds of years before the time of Imager, the continent of Lydar is fragmented.  Quaeryt is a scholar and a friend of Bhayar, the young ruler of Telaryn.  Worried about his future and the escalating intrigues in the capital city, Quaeryt persuades Bhayar to send him to Tilbor, conquered ten years earlier by Bhayar’s father, in order to see if the occupying army there can be redeployed along its border with the warlike nation of Bovaria.

Quaeryt has managed to conceal the fact that he is an imager, since the life expectancy of imagers is short.  His voyage to Tilbor is filled with pirates, storms, poisonings, attempted murder… and the discovery that he is not quite who he thought he was.”

After Action Report:

In practice, there are two solutions to mental stagnation.  The first is to innovate; take the established scenario or problem and approach it with new ideas or a different perspective.  The second is to do something else.  If Modesitt successfully innovated in Imager’s Intrigue, the third book in the Imager Portfolio, he is now using the second tactic, abandoning everything but the setting from book three.  Scholar upends the progression of the series by taking us back to the formation of Solidar and a new/old Imager who helped create the nation that Rhennthyl fights to defend.

To be fair, this isn’t a new tactic to Modesitt.  He frequently abandons major protagonists, storyline events and even time periods, to inject new life into flagging series.  For me as a reader, this can get a little annoying.  I don’t like being kept in the dark about characters I’ve come to care about.  But from the perspective of a reviewer, this methodology is kind of a blessing.  Not only can it bring a new energy to a series, but I can actually talk about the plot without having to worry about spoilers.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #37 – Ghost Story

Target: Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story (Dresden Files #13)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the back cover, ::REDACTED::
The rear cover summary is a major spoiler for the end of Changes (Dresden #12) and has been redacted.

After Action Report:

I have to give this to Jim Butcher: he knows how to drag a series past its expiration date.  Changes, book twelve in this somewhat mammoth sequence, took some major risks and really shook up the Dresden formula.  And ended with a hell of a cliffhanger.  It was/is such a big cliffhanger that I can’t actually talk about the plot of Ghost Story at all without spoiling everything.  So where does Butcher take this embarrassment of storytelling riches?  Straight back into the ground.  Or do I mean grind?

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#CBR4 Maneuver #34-36 – The Cartoon History of the Universe 1-3

Target: Larry Gonick’s The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volumes 1-19

Profile: History, Nonfiction, Cartoons!

Summary: From Volume 1, “This cartoon history is the outcome of my nine years at Harvard, where I studies mathematics – yes…  Nine years the math department scoffed at my theories!  But what do they know about time travel?  Most mathematicians can’t tell a second hand from a second base!!  We parted ways in 1972

After I dropped out, I built this time machine!  Let’s hear ‘em scoff now!  You see?  Simple!  Just a pile of old history books!  Gad, but that musty smell is bracing!!

If I read the right books and concentrate hard enough, the machine transports me – in my imagination – anywhere in the past that I want!   For you it’s even easier – all you have to do is KEEP READING!  But hang on tight!  I’ve set the controls for the time before time began…”

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